Neal Hot Springs geothermal plant ready to switch on

The initial operations will generate only ‘test power’ for sale

Lee van der Voo reports for Sustainable Business Oregon that the Neal Hot Springs is nearing mechanical completion and set to roll turbines. It is a the 22-megawatt geothermal facility in Malheur County in southeast Oregon, costing $140-million. It has been in development by Boise, Idaho-based U.S. Geothermal Inc. (NYSE: HTM) since it acquired additional mineral rights there in June 2010, and is about 90 miles northwest of Boise, van der Voo said.

“Largely supported by a $96.8 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy, the project was built in three 7.3-megawatt modules, two of which are mechanically complete and ready to start up in three to four weeks.

“Neal Hot Springs has been closely watched in the geothermal industry for the advances it has made in geothermal technology. The project uses three areas of innovation, according to U.S. Geothermal CEO Daniel Kunz.

The new features include:

• The working fluid used at Neal Hot Springs is a non-flammable, non-toxic refrigerant compound instead of traditional isopentane. The fluid captures the geothermal heat that comes out of the ground and drives the turbines while the natural geothermal fluid is pumped back underground.

• The project was built in modules, with the skids constructed in a factory, then shipped to the site for assembly.

• The cooling tower employs larger scale fans instead of traditional small ones.

“Neal Hot Springs is also among a relatively small number of large-scale geothermal plants in the United States and the first such plant in Malheur County. It will add a dramatic boost to Oregon’s installed capacity of geothermal energy, which sat at less than 1 megawatt at the end of 2011. […]

“[O]once U.S. Geothermal flips the switch on commercial operations, the facility will sell commercial power to Idaho Power through a 25-year power purchase agreement already in place.

“Neal Hot Springs is expected to create between 15 and 20 permanent jobs in Malheur County and an additional five jobs at U.S. Geothermal in Boise. The project has been credited with supporting 300 to 400 temporary jobs during construction, both among construction contractors and equipment suppliers and vendors,” the story said.

“Once operational, the Neal Hot Springs facility will be the third operating power facility for U.S. Geothermal Inc. The company also operates geothermal power facilities at Raft River, Idaho and San Emidio, Nevada. Energy distributor Enbridge Inc. partnered with U.S. Geothermal to fund the $43.2 million equity costs required at Neal Hot Springs as part of total costs that includes the U.S. Department of Energy loan guarantee.”

Via EnergyDigger

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