Newbery Crater project drilling manager Fred Wilson stands near a drilling rig at the Newberry Crater geothermal project as he describes the work near La Pine recently. Geothermal energy is burgeoning in Oregon and several companies have projects under way that take heat from beneath the earth's surface for use above ground. - AP


LA PINE — As the demand and price for energy grows, companies are searching for new sources of power. In Oregon, they're looking deep into the earth.

Geothermal energy projects are burgeoning in the state. Several companies have projects pending to harness heat from below the earth's surface and make it available for use above ground.

The technology is prevalent in countries such as Iceland, which uses its volcanic geology to provide much of its energy needs. Domestically, states such as California and Nevada have been engaged in rapid geothermal development for years.

But geologists and geothermal development companies say the Pacific Northwest has largely has been untapped because of the abundance of low-cost hydroelectric power and a ready supply of natural gas that have dominated the market for years.

But things have changed.

Many states, such as Oregon, have instituted renewable portfolio standards that require a portion of their energy supplies to come from renewable sources. Combined with incentives for companies, advances in technology and market pressures, there is a renewed interest in geothermal.

"There is clearly an interest in Oregon from utilities in talking about geothermal," said Doug Perry, president of Connecticut-based Davenport Power.

Davenport Power is currently doing exploratory drilling at Newberry Crater outside of Bend and has a contract with California's Pacific Gas & Electric to sell between 60 and 120 megawatts of geothermal power from the proposed project. The first phase of the project is scheduled to begin operating in late 2009.

In Eastern Oregon, U.S. Geothermal Inc., based in Boise, has begun drilling at the Neal Hot Springs Project, where it may go as deep as 3,500 feet into the ground looking for a potential commercial geothermal reservoir.

And in Southern Oregon, geothermal power is positively bubbling.

Raser Technologies, based in Utah, has plans to construct a geothermal plant in Klamath Falls and has another chunk of land in the area leased for potential geothermal development.

The city of Klamath Falls itself has operated a geothermal heating utility for years, using the energy to do everything from heating some of its buildings to melting snow on some of its streets and sidewalks. Now the city is looking at the feasibility of using the geothermal power for a low-temperature electricity generating project.

Nearby, the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls plans to be ramp up its use of geothermal to ultimately run its campus entirely on geothermal power.

To tap geothermal supplies, companies drill wells deep into the earth and use hot water found there either to directly heat buildings and water or to generate electricity in power plants.

Geothermal is expensive to develop up front, but has become competitive in pricing and is not a polluter like other sources. And in comparison to other "green" energy technologies, it doesn't rely on fluctuating sources — such as the sun or wind — to operate. Although some wells can "run out of steam."

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