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Department of Energy Offers $96.8 Million for Experimental Geothermal Project

The U.S. Department of Energy is continuing on its clean-energy loan spree, this time with a $96.8 million loan guarantee for an Oregon geothermal project.

The Neal Hot Springs project, a 23-megawatt geothermal power plant in southeastern Oregon, will power tens of thousands of homes when completed. The plant will also create 150 construction jobs and at least a dozen permanent jobs.

“U.S. Geothermal’s project means new jobs in Oregon communities that
need them most,” said Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, in a statement.  “This is an
important step in achieving one of my top priorities– ensuring rural
incomes grow along with urban incomes–and reason for optimism about a
more prosperous future with Oregon leading the way in clean energy
technologies.”

Neal Springs isn’t a standard geothermal project. It will use supercritical binary geothermal cycle technology, which allows for lower-temperature geothermal resources to be used for electricity generation compared to traditional geothermal systems. The technology has been available since the 1980s, but was never commercialized.

The project is also part of a larger growth trend for geothermal projects in the U.S. There are currently 188 confirmed and unconfirmed geothermal projects in the pipeline, according to the Geothermal Energy Association, and Neal Springs is the second geothermal deal to close in the DOE’s Loan Programs Office over the past six months.

If the Neal Springs project succeeds, investors may gain the confidence to take on the technology. And as the DOE has demonstrated, government-funded clean energy projects do have a track record of spurring private investment.

Neal Springs is expected to go online by 2012.

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