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Salton Sea geothermal plan now appears doomed

The Salton Sea, a large inland salt water lake in a baking Southern California desert is dying. Ambitious plans to build geothermal plants there would have revitalized the area and provided money to clean up the lake, which is a major bird migratory area.. However, a bill to fund geothermal there died in the legislature last fall. No new bills have been introduced. Proponents say they need $3.15 billion to stop the coming environmental disaster. It’s difficult to see where that money will come from.

A dry Salton Sea would also emit dangerous dust that could lead to increased incidents of cancer and asthma around the Sea and beyond. The SSRREI provides strategies for the mitigation of these emissions via the installation of wind barriers, the establishment of native plant species, and the use of soil binders and gravel to reduce dust formation. The dust mitigation plans are feasible because they are low maintenance, long lasting, and require little to no water from outside sources. If this plan is implemented, the Salton Sea will have a safe, healthy future. If this plan is not put into action, the dust from the Salton Sea will reduce air quality in the Inland Empire to historical lows and cause serious health issues

One big problem is that geothermal energy is expensive.

It’s no longer clear if there is much legislative support for an SB 1139-type approach mandating geothermal development. Officials with the state’s three giant investor-owned utilities have never been big fans of geothermal as a major source of state power. Energy experts say there’s a reason that there’s no billionaire enthusiast pushing geothermal, as T. Boone Pickens has done with wind power and several tycoons have done with solar power. It’s because a deep dig into the facts — by scientists as well as potential investors — shows it’s not an attractive option.

The Geysers in northern California is the biggest geothermal plant in the world. However it produces a minuscule amount of California’s electricity. The Salton Sea has the potential for geothermal power, but logistics and practicality are daunting.

Clearly, geothermal energy works well in select locations (geological hotspots). But it’s too puny to provide a significant share of our electricity, and direct thermal use requires substantial underground volumes/areas to mitigate depletion. All this on top of requirements to place lots of tubing infrastructure kilometers deep in the rock. Even dropping concerns about depletion, the practical/economic challenges do not favor extraction of geothermal heat on a large scale. So geothermal is not giving me that warm, fuzzy feeling I seek. It’s certainly not riding to the rescue of the imminent liquid fuels crunch.

A real problem here is that the Salton Sea is in a neglected area of California. The money flows elsewhere. However, without remediation, the lake will dry up, creating major health hazards.

  • Leroy Essek

    The one billion dollar reverse osmosis plant in San Diego/Carlsbad was financed. Long term purchase agreements for the desal water were secured by a creditworthy buyer known as the San Diego Water Authority. Using geothermal distillation which is 80% cheaper than reverse osmosis the same type of financing could be arranged for the restoration of the Salton Sea. The waste brine can be also used to generate highly profitable industrial chemicals. There are so many income streams that can be monetized we need a financial conceptualizer to facilitate a private bond offering that would “Save Our Sea!”

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