Geothermal Amendments to Energy Policy Act of 2005
H.R. 6474 would amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to include geothermal as a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). The categorical exclusion is currently afforded to the oil and gas industry for exploration and development.
H.R. 6474 will improve the efficiency with which geothermal systems can be demonstrated and deployed. By limiting the review process for environmental impacts of geothermal projects, this act will enable the United States to unlock its geothermal potential. The U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) estimates the geothermal energy potential in the US alone of over 5,000 gigawatts, more than 400 percent of total U.S. electricity generation. A recent DOE analysis found that by 2050, the total amount of installed geothermal could reach 90 GW in the U.S., providing over 10 percent of all U.S. electricity generation.
Extending this existing categorical exclusion to geothermal resource confirmation projects in areas where environmental impacts are well understood is a responsible way to expand geothermal energy resources without reducing environmental standards. H.R. 6474 is a necessary first step in unleashing America’s geothermal potential.
Under the current NEPA structure, federal agencies are required to determine the environmental impact of proposed actions. Across energy types, the NEPA review process takes an average of 4.5 years to complete, but due to litigation and lack of coordination, some reviews can take 10 or more years. Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the oil and gas industry is exempt from NEPA reviews depending on the size of the project. Geothermal projects often use the same technology as the oil and gas industry, making them well-suited to benefit from the existing categorical exclusion.
Geothermal has several advantages that make the technology well suited for an expedited permitting review. First, geothermal has a much smaller footprint than other renewable energy projects. Geothermal energy uses 70% less land per kWh than wind, and 88% less than solar. Moreover, many enhanced geothermal system (EGS) projects are poised to use existing drilling technology from the oil and gas industry, which has been operating for nearly two centuries. The well-understood, marginal environmental impacts of geothermal projects make it a viable candidate for categorical exclusion under NEPA.
H.R. 6474 amends the Energy Policy Act to include geothermal technology in the existing categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Rep. Michelle Steel (R-CA)
Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV)