(Update: added video, comments from AltaRock, Environmental Center)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – The world’s only such power source could take shape in central Oregon in the coming years.
End of September, AltaRock Energy announced the results of its latest study near the crater (caldera) of Newberry volcano. The study found that the high temperature in the impermeable rock of the volcanic crater can be used as a source of energy.
Geoff Garrison is the vice president of AltaRock Energy, a company that has worked at Newberry Volcano since 2010.
“Newberry is possibly the largest untapped geothermal resource in North America,” Garrison said Thursday.
He said their latest study reveals that if they dig deeper, in higher temperature areas, they can produce power that costs nearly half the price of conventional geothermal energy and close to the price of natural gas. .
AltaRock’s analysis revealed that the discounted cost of electricity would be less than $ 0.05 / kilowatt hour. The company claims that a conventional EGS (improved geothermal system) resource has an LCOE of $ 0.10 / kilowatt-hour or more.
Mike Riley, executive director of the Bend Environmental Center, is aware of the work AltaRock is doing and is generally supportive, albeit cautious.
“I actually think this is an exciting opportunity for our community,” said Riley. “I think from an environmental point of view there are still questions to answer.”
Riley says he supports the project, but is concerned about its impact on surrounding wildlife, indigenous peoples and its use of water.
Garrison said, “This is not a water consuming use, so we are not using water from the overall water balance. The water is recycled and put back underground, once used to extract heat.
Garrison said the company is working with several government and environmental agencies, including the departments of energy and agriculture, as well as the Office of Indian Affairs.
He said visually that the work will be carried out out of sight of the visitor center and monument.
Garrison says they hope to have a factory operational within the next five to eight years, supplying between 150,000 and 300,000 homes.
“We have access to almost the entire Oregon network,” Garrison said.
He said that by then there is still more testing to be done on the behavior of rocks at such high temperatures.
“We know more about the surface of Mars than what lies beneath our feet,” Garrison said.
Garrison also noted that the risk of causing an earthquake is something they always seek out, but for this type of geothermal energy the area they go to is so hot, the rocks are softer and therefore the risk of causing an earthquake is lower.
Riley said with the effects of climate change already widespread, any solution is a step in the right direction.
“We all have to find a way to reduce our share,” Riley said. “It’s this big global problem that’s the sum of a lot of activities, and it’s one of the things we can do locally.”
Garrison said Newberry is the perfect place to start.
“Central Oregon is very rich in energy, in terms of those resources,” Garrison said. “We believe this is a real opportunity for the region around Bend to develop technologically.”
Although commonly referred to as the Newberry Crater, the “crater” is actually a caldera formed when the overlying rocks collapse when a magma chamber is emptied, the Forest Service says. The caldera stretches for 17 square miles in the heart of the volcano. The 1,200 square mile volcano (about the size of Rhode Island) remains very active to this day. Newberry is both seismic and geothermal active. Geologists believe the caldera sits on top of a shallow body of magma just 2-5 kilometers deep.