Just about 50 years ago construction began on the Geysers, the nation's first commercial geothermal site north of San Francisco. From its humble beginnings as a steam field and as an 11-megawatt power plant, the industry has grown up.
Now, it's a reliable renewable resource in many parts of the country, but often overlooked in the discussions that tend to be dominated by wind and solar power.
"We're renewable too, and base load to boot" - at least that seems to be the message geothermal energy tries to convey in the crowded renewable energy marketplace, with varying degrees of success.
Since the Geysers began operation, the United States has become the world leader in geothermal energy production and geothermal energy is the largest renewable source of energy in the state of California, providing 5 percent of the state's electric power.
And with the aggressive renewable goals in California, the resource is ready to fill some of that void. "When you tell people there are 2,000 megawatts that are under development, they act surprised," Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) Executive Director Karl Gawell told me this week.
One problem is the sheer size of California. "It's hard to penetrate the media market in California, with one-tenth of the country's population there," he added.
Besides marking this milestone, the GEA is also going to Sacramento, Calif., for its 2010 Geothermal Energy Expo, the geothermal energy industry's largest annual event.
But in the other Western states with significant resources, -- Nevada, Utah and Oregon - the recognition of geothermal energy's role has been easier to obtain.
According to the GEA, approximately 3,086 megawatts of installed capacity is produced by 77 plants in nine states. Just last year, seven new plants were brought online. Currently 188 projects in 15 different states are in consideration or under in development. Those developing projects could triple geothermal capacity over the next decade.
And that's a long way from 11 megawatts in California decades ago.
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