West Virginia’s Opportunity to Start Using Geothermal Energy Regionally

by S. Tom Bond on February 12, 2022

The potential for significant heat energy is under foot

“Federal funds for geothermal energy boom,” Morgantown Dominion Post, February 6, 2022

From the Essay by Delegate Evan Hansen (Monongalia County), WV Legislature

The promise of a booming clean energy sector and new clean energy jobs for West Virginia workers has never been more hopeful. The potential for job growth is enormous, which is why it is so critical that Sen. Manchin maintains a seat at the negotiating table to fight for new jobs in the budget package that is still being discussed in Washington.

Investment in clean energy technologies like solar and wind energy was a focal point of the original Build Back Better plan. These opportunities will supplement coal and natural gas and provide West Virginians with a lifeline to a new era of prosperity and growth. Our state has an immense opportunity to create good-paying, clean energy jobs, but only if a deal can be made in Washington.

One area that would see substantial growth with federal investment is geothermal energy.

As West Virginians, we hold an ace up our sleeve. In 2010, a team of researchers at Southern Methodist University discovered that West Virginia may well be sitting on a gold mine of renewable energy. The team uncovered the largest geothermal hot spot in the eastern United States and significantly increased the previous geothermal generation capacity estimate, opening the door to the possibility that large-scale renewable energy power plants could be built in our state.

Geothermal energy is effectively the heat that comes from below the surface of the earth. To produce power, wells are dug thousands of feet deep. Cool liquid is pumped down into the ground, and hot liquid is pumped up, producing steam that, if hot enough, can then be used to generate electricity. In the near future, West Virginia University researchers will drill the state’s first geothermal test well near Morgantown to take actual temperature measurements. If the temperatures are hot enough, electricity generation may be possible. If not, geothermal energy could still be used to generate steam to heat buildings.

What makes our situation unique is that, while there are literally thousands of geothermal locations that have been identified west of the Mississippi River, there are but a couple dozen east of the Appalachian Mountains. Right here in West Virginia, we are sitting on top of the mother lode.

So, consider this for a moment. If the most recent Build Back Better framework were to pass through Congress, the state of West Virginia could tap into more than $300 billion in tax incentives and lead the way in promoting renewable energy technologies like geothermal. Our state would see an inflow of new jobs that can’t be outsourced. And new, zero-carbon electricity and/or heat would be available to attract companies to the state that have strict carbon reduction targets.

While WVU researchers continue to do their groundbreaking research, getting a deal over the finish line in Washington is a win-win-win for West Virginia. We could once more be looked upon as an energy sector pioneer and create good-paying jobs, while also providing for a better future for our children.

>>> Delegate Evan Hansen (D-Monongalia) is a member of the WV House Energy and Manufacturing Committee.


See Also: West Virginia has a (Deep) Geothermal Hot Zone | Science | AAAS, Eli Kintisch, October 4, 2010

Researchers have uncovered the largest geothermal hot spot in the eastern United States. According to a unique collaboration between Google and academic geologists, West Virginia sits atop several hot patches of Earth, some as warm as 200˚C and as shallow as 5 kilometers. If engineers are able to tap the heat, the state could become a producer of green energy for the region.

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