People of Northwest Public Radio
Geothermal Power Plant
Tue March 5, 2013
Malheur County Geothermal Plant Exceeding Expectations
Operators of a geothermal power plant in Malheur County say that facility is producing more electricity than originally anticipated.
It's been about four months since the Neal Hot Springs project came online west of Vale. The plant generates electricity by tapping into an underground reservoir of hot water. But the water isn't hot enough to spin a turbine. For that the plant uses something called a binary geothermal cycle. The hot water is used instead to heat a secondary fluid with a lower boiling point. Steam from the secondary fluid spins the turbines.
Daniel Kunz is the CEO of U.S. Geothermal. He says the concept is really just a refrigeration system working in reverse. What's new here is the secondary fluid that's being used. And so far it's proven to be about 7 percent more efficient than anticipated.
"We really want to be careful, because we have to look at an entire year and see how it does as an average for a year before we get too excited about it," Kunz says. "But, we're pretty pleased at this stage."
The project is funded in part through a $100 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy.
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