Jim Lane

Geothermal Digest — October 21, 2009

In Idaho, the Northwestern Band (NWB) of Shoshone Nation will begin building a geothermal power plant in Franklin County in the spring of 2010. The 96 MW plant is the fifth under development by Shoshone Energy, a part of the NWB’s Economic Development Corporation. All five projects are located within the indigenous homeland and all are slated to be on the order of 100 MW projects.

The latest site is in Preston, near the location of the largest Indian massacre in the American West. On Jan. 29, 1863, soldiers killed about 500 Shoshone men, women and children. Construction of the plant—which a local newspaper called the largest single construction project in the history of the county—will not jeopardize the massacre site, which the Tribe purchased in 2003.

The power generated by two of the projects is slated to go to California. The Southern California Public Power Authority will take the 96 MW from a carbon-copy Utah project begun last year—specifically for Riverside, CA—and Anaheim CA was quick to sign on for the first 32 MW of resulting power from the latest project in Preston.

Michael Devine, Chief Operating Officer, calls Preston “one of the best geothermal sites in the country.” All five sites are part of the same geology, long known for hot springs that the Shoshone people have lived in and around and used for centuries. Plus, the area was first explored for geothermal potential in the seventies, and the current work builds on existing exploratory drill holes and data. Current binary technology now makes them economically feasible. New wells, on the order of 8,000 ft on average, will be needed for production, according to Devine.

Drilling was in fact shut down in Utah with the drop in credit markets. However, new funding and guarantees have been secured and Devine says drilling will restart in “a couple of months” and both sites should be up and running in about two years. The Shoshone status as an Indian Nation affords them 90% full faith and credit from the federal government, a far better deal than any non-native American group can get, even with the Reinvestment Act.

The Preston site has the added advantage of having transmission lines running right through the leased land, part of 6,000 acres that NWB has the rights to. While this will hold part of the cost down, overall each plant will cost on the order of $400 million to build. The final three projects are “flash sites”, that is, holding a hotter resource that will not require binary-cycle equipment. The Tribe has draft agreements to sell the generated power, and cannot say with whom as yet.