ENVIRONMENT

Utah is looking to Iceland to map the state’s geothermal potential

Jun 11, 2024, 5:46 PM | Updated: Jun 12, 2024, 11:06 am

HENGILL, Iceland — A Utah delegation is visiting Iceland to see if the country could help the Beehive State achieve cleaner energy through geothermal energy.

On Tuesday, the delegation visited Hellisheidi, Iceland’s biggest geothermal plant, and the 8th largest in the world.

According to Icelandic officials, water is the main difference between Utah’s resources and theirs. Water in Iceland is a plentiful and cheap resource. But how much water Utah would need to power a plant like Hellisheidi, is still hard to say.

Iceland's biggest geothermal plant, Hellisheidi in Hengill.

Iceland’s biggest geothermal plant, Hellisheidi in Hengill. (Mike Anderson, KSL TV)

“I think that we still need to evaluate what kind of what consumption of the water there is and what sources of water. That would be used,” said Teresa Wilhelmsen, Utah’s state engineer with the Division of Water Rights.

While Utah has three geothermal power plants in Beaver County, the energy is being sold to neighboring states like California.

Utah officials said building any new ones could take decades to fully complete. The state would have to dig deep underground into the hot rocks near tectonic plates, for which Utah is in a good spot.

“Fortunately, in Utah, over half of the state, those hot rocks are shallow,” said Jim Goddard, the geothermal program manager for Utah’s Division of Water Rights.

The Utah delegation looking at the Hellisheiði Power Station on June 11, 2024.

The Utah delegation touring the Hellisheiði Power Station on June 11, 2024. (Mike Anderson, KSL TV)

Goddard said the rocks are typically between five and 10,000 feet deep. The challenge is getting the technology to make that power cost closer to what Utah currently pays.

But, Utah officials believe the technology is within arms’ reach and have found promising new ideas while in the Land of Fire and Ice.

“To meet one of the world leaders in this space, I think, is encouraging to us,” said Ryan Starks, the executive director of Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity.

Arctic Green is one of the biggest firms in the geothermal business. The company can typically put up to 50 % of its capital into projects in return for part ownership in a plant. It’s something that could help get things moving in Utah, as it has around the world.

“And so if there’s a company that’s well funded that can help consult throughout the process and then put up half of the capital, seems like the type of win-win that Utah likes to engage in,” Starks said.

Utah delegates speaking to Arctic Green on June 11, 2024.

Utah delegates speaking to Arctic Green on June 11, 2024. (Mike Anderson, KSL TV)

The Utah delegation discussed using Draper’s Point of the Mountain development as a potential model, as the former prison had previously tapped into geothermal for some of its daily operations.

However, the idea is still extremely early in the process.

“I think if we could find the right community to test it in the model it where we can learn from kind of the best practices, I think we can then scale it up in a big way throughout the state,” Starks said.

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Utah is looking to Iceland to map the state’s geothermal potential