SLC considers geothermal power plant development

Heated water » Possible site is a hot spring near downtown
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Salt Lake City Corp. would like to get into the geothermal energy production business and has asked Utah's Raser Technologies Inc. to begin evaluating potential plant sites, including the area around Wasatch Warm Springs just north of downtown.

Mayor Ralph Becker last week included the development of a $70 million geothermal power plant among his "wish list" of projects that he hopes the federal government will help fund as part of President-elect Barack Obama's economic stimulus package.

"We've been asked by the city to help them evaluate a number of sites to figure out if any of them are viable," said David West, vice president of marketing for Raser. "Things are really in the very early stages, though. There isn't any [development] deal in place yet."

Wasatch Warm Springs, located at approximately 900 N. 300 West, is the southernmost in a series of four hot springs located along three miles of what is known as the Warm Springs fault zone, according to the Utah Geological Survey. The water temperature in the four springs -- Beck, Hobo, Clark and Wasatch -- fluctuates between 100 and 108 degrees Fahrenheit.

Although that water temperature traditionally has been viewed as far too low to produce power, Raser has developed technology that it says will allow low temperature wells to be used to generate electricity.

"We've told Raser that we're really interested in what they have to offer and we'd like to see if there is something that we can do with them or another company like them," said Vicki Bennett, Salt Lake City's sustainability director. "And maybe, if the federal government's economic stimulus plan makes funds available for renewable energy projects we can get some money to help us move forward. It would be great if we could."

West pointed out that Raser's technology allowed the company to develop a 14-megawatt plant located about 35 miles west of Beaver in about a year. That plant is expected to begin supplying power 24 hours a day in February for use by Anaheim, Calif.

"If we could find a viable resource, we could have a plant site [in Salt Lake City] shovel ready in a very short period of time, which would provide the kind of quick economic impact the government is talking about wanting from the stimulus package," West said.

Also, the springs are primarily located in an industrial area. The Tesoro-owned oil refinery is right across the street from the Wasatch Warm Springs. And that could make finding a site for a geothermal plant easier.

But Mark Milligan of the Utah Geological Survey, who has studied the Warm Springs fault zone and the hot springs found along Beck Street in Salt Lake City, said the water temperature may be too low even for Raser's technology.

"There are indications, though, that there may be some mixing of waters [with different temperatures] as it nears the surface," Milligan said. "There could be a higher temperature resource at depth, which may be what Raser is hoping to find."