Compare Geothermal Permitting and Regulations Across States
Compare aspects of the permitting process among states.
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Geothermal Land Use Comparison
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Geothermal Land Access Comparison
On a federal mineral estate managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the developer will need to obtain a Geothermal Resource Lease to develop geothermal resources, which is typically obtained from the BLM through the Competitive Geothermal Lease Sale Nomination Process or through a noncompetitive lease application for lands on which no bids were received at a competitive lease sale (the noncompetitive option extends for the two years following the competitive lease sale). The developer may obtain access to the land for certain exploration purposes without a lease with the approval of a Notice of Intent to Conduct Geothermal Resource Exploration Operations. In addition, the developer may require land access over a federal surface estate for other reasons, such as roads or transmission lines. This may be obtained through a right-of-way or use authorization from the application federal agency.
On state land the process varies from state to state, in large part due to the inconsistent definition of a geothermal resource and the level of control the state exerts over geothermal resources. To access the geothermal resource, a developer may be required to obtain a state geothermal lease by either competitive or noncompetitive means, a state surface lease, or a temporary permit for exploration activities. In addition, the developer may require land access over a state surface estate for other reasons, such as roads or transmission lines. Developers may obtain other forms of surface access through a surface lease, right-of-way, or other use authorization to access state lands.
On tribal land the developer will negotiate with the individual tribe for land access, which may require approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The process will vary depending on whether the developer is seeking access to a surface estate or mineral estate and whether the tribe has been granted the authority to operate without BIA approval by the Secretary of the Interior.On a private surface estate or mineral estate, the developer will be required to negotiate a private lease or easement when the individual landowner.
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Geothermal Exploration Comparison
Non-invasive techniques are those that cause little or no disturbance to the land. Examples include satellite or airplane flyover surveys, seismic surveys, magnetic surveys, and gravity surveys. Techniques like flyover surveys may require no permits at all; while, techniques like seismic surveys may require land access and exploration permits depending on whether the land and/or geothermal rights are owned by federal, state, tribal, or private parties. Invasive techniques are those that cause a significant disturbance to the land. Examples include reflection seismology that requires explosives, core hole drilling, and temperature gradient wells. Invasive techniques may require the developer to obtain surface and mineral rights or a geothermal lease, land access permits, construction permits, drilling permits, and water rights. In addition, a developer may be required to pay royalties on production from exploratory wells.The types of techniques used and permits required will depend on where the exploration takes place. Issues, including land access, geothermal leasing, exploration regulation, and drilling regulation all vary depending on whether the land and/or geothermal rights are owned by federal, state, tribal, or private parties.
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Geothermal Drilling & Well Development Comparison
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- development, either oil or gas;
- service; or
- stratigraphic test.
If a developer plans on drilling multiple exploratory wells in a defined project area, the developer must submit a Geothermal Project Area Permit application to the Nevada Division of Minerals.If a developer plans to make minor changes to an existing well, the developer must submit a Sundry Notice to the Nevada Division of Minerals
Geothermal Power Plant Siting & Construction Comparison
If the power plant will be located on federal land, the developer will be required to go through a Utilization Application Process. This process involves the development of a Utilization Plan. The developer will be required to submit a Utilization Plan, Operation Plan, and Draft Facility Construction Permit to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The plant commissioning process follows the implementation of a Utilization Plan.
If the power plant is a cogeneration facility or a small power production facility the developer may apply for certification as a Qualifying Facility under the Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) and receive special rate and regulatory treatment. A cogeneration facility is a generation facility that sequentially produces electricity and another form of useful thermal energy in a way that is more efficient than the separate production of both forms of energy.
If the power plant is an independent power producer, the plant may be exempt from certain federal regulations. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 created an exemption from the Public Utility Holding Company Act (PUHCA) for ‘Exempt Wholesale Generators’ (EWG). EWGs include independent power producers that sell energy only to wholesale customers.If the facility will be regulated by a state public utility regulatory authority, the facility will likely be required to obtain a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN). The CPCN generally is necessary to establish a public need for the facility and the developer’s ability to fill that need. Some states do not regulate independent power producers if they do not sell power directly to the public because only developers that fall within the states’ definition of “public utility” will be regulated. Developers who are also public utilities will be regulated by the state utility regulatory authority and will likely be required to obtain a CPCN.
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- (1) Owns, controls, operates, or manages plants or facilities for the generation, transmission, or furnishing of electricity; and
- (2) Provides, sells, or transmits all of that electricity, except such electricity as is used in its own internal operations or is used for its own consumption, directly to a public utility for either transmission or distribution to the public.
Geothermal Transmission Comparison
If the developer will need to connect transmission lines to the grid, then they must obtain an interconnection agreement. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) requires all public utilities that own, control, or operate facilities used for transmitting electric energy in interstate commerce to have on file standard procedures and a standard agreement for interconnecting generators. If the project will interconnect with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), then the transmission process is particularly unique and specific rules and procedures will apply.
The Federal Power Act (FPA) directs the Department of Energy to deal with transmission congestion problems through designating geographic areas of special significance where consumers have been negatively affected called National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors. The designation could provide FERC with limited siting authority pursuant to the FPA under certain circumstances.The developer will be required to obtain a federal right-of-way if transmission lines will go through federal lands. If the project will be located on state lands, then the developer will need to get the approval of any relevant state or local authority. This generally requires the developer to obtain an encroachment permit. Any access needed through private lands will require negotiation for right-of-way access or eminent domain proceedings.
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- Facility with a nominal voltage of at least 115,000 volts, and is proposed to be located in a completely new corridor which is located in more than one jurisdiction where at least one such jurisdiction has promulgated land use plans or zoning ordinances.
- Facility with a nominal voltage in excess of 115,000 volts, and is proposed to be located outside an existing or designated electrical transmission corridor identified in the previous two categories.
Geothermal Environmental Review Comparison
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Geothermal Water Access & Rights Comparison
Water access and water rights are predominantly handled at the state level. A developer may require water for such uses as dust suppression for roads, construction activities, drilling operations, extraction of geothermal resources, and plant cooling operations. Depending on the situation and demands of a project, a developer may seek water through a lease holder, a municipality, or a permanent water right.Water rights are typically divided into surface water and groundwater rights. In the western United States, surface water rights are generally governed by a system called prior appropriation (where water rights are acquired through priority and beneficial use). While in the eastern United States, surface water rights are governed by a system known as riparian rights (where water rights are obtained by having land that is adjacent to a stream or river). Groundwater rights are governed by a diverse set of rules depending on the state. States may employ the rule of capture (where a land owner is able to use as much water as he/she can pump), limit the rule of capture through conservation laws, include groundwater in the prior appropriation system, or include only tributary groundwater (groundwater that is hydraulically connected to surface water) in the prior appropriation system.
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- All products of geothermal processes, including indigenous steam, hot water, and hot brines;
- Steam and other gases, hot water, and hot brines resulting from water, gas, or other fluids artificially introduced into geothermal formations;
- Heat or other associated energy found in geothermal formations; and
- Any byproducts.
Groundwater having a temperature greater than 212 degrees Fahrenheit at the well bottom is classified as a "geothermal resource" (IC 42-4002(c)). Water between 85 degrees Fahrenheit and 212 degrees Fahrenheit at the well bottom is classified as a "low temperature geothermal resource." Idaho claims ownership of all geothermal resources underlying state and school trust lands. Idaho also claims the right to regulate development and use of all of the state's geothermal resources.The use of geothermal resources does not require a permit to appropriate water in Idaho unless it will decrease groundwater in any aquifer or other groundwater source or measurably decrease groundwater available from prior water rights. However, the use of low temperature geothermal resources does require a permit to appropriate water.
- Geothermal resources are classified similar to minerals if the water temperature is greater than 250 degrees Fahrenheit. However, use of the geothermal resources cannot impair existing water rights and all diverted groundwater must be reinjected.
- Geothermal resources are classified as water rights if the water temperature is less than 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ownership of geothermal resources derives from an interest in the land however, any diversion and use of geothermal fluids requires the acquisition of a water right. See Utah Code 73-22-8. Under the Utah Geothermal Resource Conservation Act (UGRCA), Utah defines geothermal resources as:
"the natural heat energy of the earth at temperatures greater than 120 degrees centigrade; and the energy, in whatever form, including pressure, present in, resulting from, created by, or which may be extracted from that natural heat, directly or through a material medium. Geothermal resource does not include geothermal fluids." UC 73-22-3(5).Under the UGRCA, geothermal fluids are defined as, “water and steam at temperatures above 120 degrees Celsius naturally present in a geothermal system.’’ UC 73-22-3(4).