Tribe plans geothermal plant

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Posted: 4:10 PM- HONEYVILLE - Shoshones once used the Earth's hot water for bathing and warmth on cold winter days. Now, they're looking to turn it into electricity.

The Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation broke ground today for a geothermal plant that is expected to produce 100 megawatts of electricity by 2010.

The plant will be built in three stages near Honeyville in northern Utah, and will sell its first 64 megawatts of power to Riverside, Calif., which signed a 30-year purchase agreement last summer.

"It's about time we got back to using these great resources we have," said Bruce Parry, chairman of the tribe and also the chief executive officer of the tribe's economic-development arm. He and two dozen others used traditional Shoshone digging sticks to poke holes in the earth.

Financing for the $450 million project has not yet been arranged, but interest from large corporations remains high despite the financial crisis, said Christopher Moakley, chief executive of the Meridian Investments, after the groundbreaking ceremony. Meridian is helping the Shoshones secure financing.

Tax credits for geothermal investment are attractive to corporations, and those credits are included in the bailout package passed by the U.S. Senate, Moakley said.

Tribal Council member Jason Walker said the money the tribe's business makes on the geothermal plant will help educate its young.

"Once we tribal members get education, we can be anything we want," he said.

Steve Morello, a deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Energy, said business ventures such as Shoshone Renaissance can give the tribe the money to truly be a sovereign nation.

It's interesting, he said, that tribes today often realize that their homelands "are the places the 'creator' stored resources."

Morello, a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of the Chippewa, is director of the Office of Indian Energy and Programs.

Sarah Wright, director of the public interest group Utah Clean Energy, called the project "huge" in terms of advocating renewable-energy development in Utah.

Rocky Mountain Power has a small geothermal plant in Beaver County, and a private company is drilling for another there now.

Dianne Nielson, energy adviser to Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., said both the state and the Western Governors Association are surveying renewable resources within the region to determine if there are other viable locations for such plants.

"It's great the tribe sees the opportunity to develop this resource," she said. "It's an example to others and an opportunity for jobs."

Shoshone Renaissance, as the Honeyville plant will be called, is the first of five geothermal plants that the tribe's economic-development arm is building with an Idaho company, Idatherm.

The other four are in southern Idaho, including near Preston, just over the hill from the site where 300 to 500 Shoshone were massacred in 1863. Construction on that plant is to begin this winter.

At Honeyville, brine water that is at least 280 degrees will be pumped about 1,800 feet to the surface, and once the energy is removed, returned to the earth.