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Geothermal

Geothermal energy uses the high temperatures found beneath the earth to generate electricity from heated water, as well as for various direct uses (such as hot springs spas, lumber drying or aquaculture). Geothermal heat has some direct uses in Texas, such as in spas and hot-water heating in buildings. Geothermal heat pumps provide energy-efficient cooling and heating to homes and schools in the state. But geothermal energy is not currently being used to generate electricity in Texas.

Geothermal energy, which produces no air emissions other than steam, is the focus of considerable interest and activity in Texas. Exploration of oil and gas fields for geothermal energy could bring new lease income and jobs. Although Texas’ geothermal electricity production has been experimental thus far, the energy produced by the heat of the earth’s core is essentially inexhaustible, and research into ways to tap that energy is ongoing and accelerating. Both universities and energy companies are assessing the state’s geothermal potential.

Cost

Per Million Btu No cost as an input for direct heat use or generating electricity.
Direct Subsidy Share of Total Consumer Spending Federal: 0.5 percent; State and Local: 0.24 percent.249
Notes Any future use of geothermal power for electricity generation would entail transmission costs.

Economic Impact and Viability

Wages and Jobs No economic data on the geothermal energy industry in Texas are available. Texas has no geothermal power plants.
Regulatory Climate Geothermal power plants would have to obtain a wastewater permit from TCEQ, a process that usually takes about one year.250
Texas Competitive Advantage Texas has hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells drilled, many in areas with good geothermal energy potential, and large amounts of data regarding those wells. The costs of exploration and drilling are a significant portion of geothermal development, so Texas has a large potential to realize savings in this area, as well as a work force skilled in drilling techniques.
Notes Heating and air conditioning companies install geothermal heat pump systems (which also involves excavation, drilling and design work, often by separate businesses or subcontractors), and some of their businesses are solely geothermal.

Availability and Current Infrastructure

Estimated Resources in Texas Estimates of Texas’ potential geothermal capacity range from 400 to 10,000 MW; 2,000 MW is thought to be realistic in the near term.251 Resources for heat pumps are practically unlimited.
Current Fuel Production None.
Consumption in Texas None, other than heat pumps and limited direct uses.
Notes Geothermal generation of electricity, because of new technologies that can take advantage of lower temperature resources and Texas’ large number of existing oil and gas wells, has good potential in the state.

Environment, Health and Safety

Greenhouse Gas Emissions No significant issues.
Air Pollution (Non-Greenhouse Gas) No significant issues.
Solid Waste No significant issues.
Land Use Land would be required for plant sites.252
Water Withdrawal Geothermal electric generation requires withdrawals of 586 gallons of water per million Btu produced.253
Water Consumption Geothermal electric generation requires an average of 410 gallons of water per million Btu produced.254 According to the Geothermal Energy Association and the power plant company ORMAT, one promising technology, the binary turbine, does not consume water since all of it is reinjected back into the ground. These types of plants are more likely to be used in Texas.
Water Quality Geothermal electric generation can lead to groundwater contamination during well drilling and water extraction. However, such contamination can be prevented with proper management techniques.255
Notes Geothermal heat pumps are extremely efficient space conditioning systems that can be used to reduce peak electricity demand.

Fuel Characteristics

Energy Content Depends on the temperature of the geothermal resource.
Renewability Geothermal energy is generally considered renewable, although a particular site can be depleted of heat or water if it is not reinjected.

Other Issues

Dependence on Foreign Suppliers No significant issues.
Price and Supply Risks The price of geothermal electricity would depend upon its production cost and would have to be made competitive with other electricity to be commercially viable.
Required Plug-ins