New geothermal plant planned near Malta

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) - A geothermal company plans to build a $150 million energy facility near Malta in south-central Idaho.

Trent Yang, a company developer with Aguacaliente, told The Times-News in a story Friday that the company recently finished drilling a third successful production well.

The company hopes to build a 25-megawatt power plant at Walker Ranch and have it operating by 2016. That's an area near an existing 10-megawatt geothermal plant called Raft River Energy operated by U.S. Geothermal Inc.

Aguacaliente plans to drill 18 wells. Yang said half will be used to pull up hot water, and half will be used as reinjection wells to return the water underground.

"You pull the hot water out of the ground, you use the heat from the water to drive the turbine, which produces the electricity, and then you pump the water back into the ground," Yang said. "That's why it's a renewable source. So for every production well, you need an injection well."

Deep underground the Snake River plain is boiling water. In some areas it reaches the surface and is used for aquaculture, recreation, and to heat homes.

But energy producers need to find water that's hot enough and in large enough quantities to make it profitable. Raft River Energy went 6,000 feet deep to find an aquifer at 280 degrees that produces 1,000 gallons a minute.

"Hopefully it is not about whether the resource is there. It's if you can hit it with drilling," Yang said. "It is not like oil and gas, where it is a huge reservoir and you just stick straws in it. What we are doing is looking for fractures in the land where water can come up."

The company is working with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on the planned geothermal plant.

"BLM is excited (about the Walker Ranch project) because renewable energy is one of our priorities," said Steve Lubinski, geologist at the BLM's Burley field office. "Personally, it is kind of a neat thing to produce power without fossil fuels or without imposing very much natural resource damage."

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Information from: The Times-News