Geothermal power is a great idea as an efficiency measure when closed loops of piping are used to preheat or precool air or water. This can be done anywhere and helps minimize the use of electricity or heating fuels for heating and cooling of building temperatures or the heating of water.
However, when geothermal is used to produce electricity (which, in the U.S., is only possible in western states), these larger systems are all "open-loop" types that suck water out of the ground. These can actually deplete the resource. Open loop geothermal is not clean, as communities are exposed to emissions of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, carbon dioxide and radon. Also, there are notable environmental justice issues around geothermal proposals in Hawaii and in parts of California, where communities of color have been threatened with damaging geothermal development.
Geothermal in Hawaii:
- Puna Pono Alliance: Hawaii's Big Island resident fighting geothermal development (see the extensive 2013 government-commissioned report on health and safety issues relating to Puna Geothermal Ventures)
- Wao Kele O Puna is a lowland rainforest and sacred site in Hawaii that for years was threatened by geothermal drilling. Protesters successfully protected this site from the drilling.
- Puna Geothermal fined for clean air violations
- Former Employees Sue Ormat: Geothermal Firm Lied to Get Stimulus Cash
- Coalition Sues State To Stop Hawaii Geothermal Project
- Health Consultation: Puna Geothermal Venture (U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)
"During operation of the geothermal wells, gases may be released to the atmosphere. These gases include carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and trace amounts of radon-222. The emission of hydrogen sulfide gas is considered to be the most important public health problem related to the operation of these geothermal wells. Since hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air, it can accumulate in low-lying areas during temperature inversions or when prevailing trade winds are calm."
Geothermal in California:
- In Siskiyou County, CA geothermal has been proposed in an area where Native Americans would lose their sacred medicinal healing lands. This site is known as Medicine Lake.
- Opposition to Geothermal in Inyo County, CA
- Clashing shades of green in Inyo County (LA Times, 11/23/2007). This piece calls attention to the heavy water use that geothermal technology requires. In locations such as Inyo County, CA, such excessive water use can have a serious effect on available water in the region.
- Imperial County, CA: Citizens group fighting back against 4-6 geothermal plants that were proposed for communities of color in the county in 2007
Geothermal in Nevada:
The good kind of geothermal... the kind you can use anywhere: Geothermal heat pumps