Geothermal plant set to produce juice in December

$50M facility will open a new era in energy production, advocates say
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THERMO - If everything goes as planned, Utah's Raser Technologies Inc. within the next four to six weeks will begin generating up to 14 megawatts of electricity from its new geothermal power plant in Beaver County.

To hear Raser's management and fans such as Sen. Orrin Hatch tell it, the firm is launching a new era of energy production with its plant capable of producing electricity from low-temperature geothermal wells that until now weren't viewed as hot enough to produce power.

"Our low-temperature technology can make geothermal a mainstream source of energy for the nation," Raser Chief Executive Brent Cook said Thursday, after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the plant located about 35 miles west of Beaver.

Once completed, the plant will have cost about $50 million to build.

It will supply the bulk of its power - 10 megawatts - to Anaheim, Calif., which is under contract to purchase the power for $78 per megawatt. The other four megawatts will be used to run the geothermal plant. A megawatt is enough to serve about 750 homes.

The plant uses a new and relatively untested technology developed by UTC Power, which is a division of United Technologies Corp. and a sister company to Carrier Corp., known for its heating and air conditioning products.

John Fox, a UTC Power vice president and general manager over its geothermal product operations, said the Raser plant is the first significant deployment of the company's "PureCycle" technology.

"To date, we have two units installed in Alaska, two in New Mexico and one in Guatemala," Fox said.

Each PureCycle generator - there are 50 now installed at Raser's plant - will generate about 280 kilowatts of electricity. "They basically operate like an air conditioning unit, only in reverse," Fox said. "Hot water goes in and is used to heat a fluid that turns a turbine. Kilowatts [and cooled water] come out."

Cook said Raser is working on eight other geothermal projects, including seven in the western U.S. and one in Indonesia. But he acknowledged that the nation's credit crisis could slow their development.

The plant is named in honor of Hatch, who introduced legislation that helped make the financing of the geothermal plant possible.

Hatch, who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony, lauded the company for moving quickly to get the plant up and running, with the drilling of the geothermal wells starting a year ago and construction taking just six months. He noted that it typically takes five to seven years to develop a geothermal plant.

"If Raser can continue to replicate this successful model, it will unlock this country's most abundant and practical sources of renewable energy," he said.