Geothermal energy comes from the internal heat of the earth, found in rocks and fluids at various depths.
Geothermal heat is used to generate electricity and directly heat buildings. Traditionally, steam turbines and very high-temperature
geothermal resources were used to create electricity. More recent technological innovations have enabled electricity generation at lower temperatures.
Most of the nation’s geothermal generation is
in the West. Challenges geothermal developers face include high upfront costs, resource uncertainty, and dealing with environmentally sensitive areas.
Geothermal Energy in Oregon
In Oregon, areas with the greatest geothermal
potential are located in the central and southeastern parts of the
state. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has developed an
interactive mapping tool of geothermal resources. Similarly, the Oregon
Department of Geology and Mineral Industries created an
interactive map of
geothermal springs and wells in Oregon.
Geothermal for Electricity Generation
The City of Klamath Falls uses geothermal energy to heat buildings, homes,
pools, and even melt snow and ice from sidewalks and roads. In Lakeview, a geothermal well system is now being
used to heat school properties and hospital buildings.
Oregon’s first geothermal power plant began
operating in 2010 at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls. The initial electricity-generating
capacity was 280 kilowatts. A second plant at OIT generates 1.75 megawatts of
In 2012, U.S. Geothermal Inc. brought online a 22-megawatt facility at
Neal Hot Springs near the eastern Oregon town of Vale. In 2015, a 3.1-megawatt
geothermal power plant began operating in Paisley. Other geothermal opportunities are being explored in Lake County at Crump Geyser and Glass Butte.
Unlike other forms
of renewable energy, geothermal projects provide a more constant source
of electricity. By providing reliable baseload power, these facilities
help to offset traditional fossil fuel power plants and support integration of more renewables onto the grid.
Geothermal for Heating
Other examples of direct
use of geothermal heat in the state include drying agricultural products,
aquaculture (raising fish), heating greenhouses, and heating swimming pools at
spas and resorts. Hot springs resorts are widespread in Oregon, including those in Ashland, Belknap, Breitenbush and Hot Lake.