Geothermal energy potential may increase due to shrinking Salton Sea

October 13, 2014 0 By Amanda Giasson

The receding Salton Sea might not be all bad news for California.

According to what officials said at the Southern California Energy Summit, which took place last week, while the shrinking of the Salton Sea, which is predominantly located in California’s Imperial and Coachella Valleys, could cause a serious public health hazard, it could also increase geothermal energy development in the region.

It is believed that the exposed lake bed will have both negative and positive effects on the area.

The more the sea recedes, the more lake-bed is exposed. The exposed land is anticipated to discharge huge amounts of dust into the air. The concern is that this dust will contribute to an increase in asthma and lung cancer rates and could also lead to damage that could costs tens of billions of dollars. On the flip side of the coin, however, some of this exposed lake-bed may actually be land that contains top geothermal hotspots.

Andy Horne, who works on natural resources development for Imperial County, said that as much as 2,000 megawatts of geothermal power could be made available. This is good news for officials who have long believed that the development of this renewable resource is crucial to funding the Salton Sea’s restoration. The saline endorheic rift lake has been shrinking as a result of a declining agricultural runoff.

The geothermal potential could be good for the region because it will lead to companies developing newly exposed geothermal hotspots and they could be required to cover the cost of environmental mitigation projects. According to Horne, health and environmental problems that are caused by floating dust from the exposed lake floor, which surround the new geothermal plants, would be addressed by these projects.Geothermal Energy - Salton Sea

Geothermal energy development could help pay for some of the Salton Sea restoration.

It is likely that restoring the Salton Sea will cost anywhere from $3 billion to $9 billion. It has been estimated by the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) that over the next 30 years, geothermal development could produce $2 billion in royalty payments.

However, the trouble is that while the Salton Sea may be the location of one of the most potent geothermal reservoirs in the world, since 2000, only one new facility has been built and it cost $400 million.

Bruce Wilcox, the IID environmental manager, said that renewable energy will not save the Salton Sea on its own. That said, he added that the short-term revenue generated by renewables like geothermal energy is essential for maintaining restoration efforts until a suitable funding plan can be developed.