Proposed geothermal lease in Chaffee County has residents steamed

Colorado is no stranger to controversial energy extraction, with its perpetual tussles over oil, gas and uranium mining.

Now Chaffee County is seeing a battle over a new kind of energy extraction:  geothermal. A Bureau of Land Management proposal to lease the geothermal rights on some 800 acres of Chaffee County land has some residents… steamed.

Nearby residents have questions on the proposed lease, writes the Chaffee County Times:

A geothermal power plant in Nesjavellir. (lydurs; cc, Flickr)

A geothermal power plant in Nesjavellir. (lydurs; cc, Flickr)

Harold Palmer, a 16-year Nathrop resident, worries the proposed lease could allow construction of power-generation equipment on private land because the lease is for subsurface mineral rights – much of which lie beneath private property. Palmer said he worries about his water rights. He believes the Bureau lease might allow a private company to take his water as a mineral right…

[Stephen] Glover said other issues include construction erosion upon steep topography, water pollution to Chalk Creek and the aquifer, traffic, dust, noise, safety, visual resources, seismic activity and loss of water in local wells.

Glover recently set up a website in opposition to the leases. He makes it clear he doesn’t oppose geothermal– just geothermal “in his backyard.”

To be perfectly clear, we believe geothermal energy, done correctly, is a truly superior form of renewable energy. But as we see the situation today, Geothermal development at the base of the Chalk Cliffs carries much higher costs to us than you may think.

In September, the Denver Business Journal pointed out that this lease would be the first of its kind in Colorado:

[It would be] the first time the BLM has offered a parcel specifically for geothermal power development in Colorado. Typically, the BLM’s lease sales offer parcels intended for oil and gas development. The agency will offer for lease a parcel sized at 799.2 acres for subsurface federal mineral rights. The parcel is in Chaffee County, near the Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort west of Buena Vista.

But in a pro-geothermal piece on the news-blog Salida Citizen, Trey Beck pointed out that the leases are common in California and Nevada:

Geothermal resources, such as steam and hot water, are used directly to heat buildings and in greenhouses and aquaculture, and indirectly to generate electric power. Half of the nation’s geothermal energy production occurs on federal land, much of it in California and Nevada, and 90 percent of potential geothermal resources are located on public lands as well, according to the BLM. The earth’s crust may be slightly thinner in Colorado between Leadville and Paonia, a phenomenon known as the Aspen Anomaly, making this region more promising for geothermal development.

The BLM had originally planned to auction the lease on November 12, but decided on November 8 to postpone auctioning the land until February 13, according to the Associated Press:

Federal officials are delaying what was to be the first auction of geothermal leases in Colorado to resolve questions about the increasingly popular form of renewable energy.

Federal officials want more time to study the potential effects of geothermal development on water and property rights.

The BLM will be accepting formal protests about the lease from Dec. 11 until Jan. 27.

Hat tip to Coyote Gulch, which first aggregated many of these stories.

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Katie Redding

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