Key Senate committee fails to advance Brown bill on geothermal energy

Today the Legislature reached an important deadline: the final day for Senate fiscal committees (Ways and Means; Transportation) to vote on Senate bills that have an effect on the state budget. One of the measures that failed to meet the critical deadline is a bill sponsored by Sen. Sharon Brown that would promote renewable energy by advancing the development of geothermal resources.

“As we continue to take an all-of-the-above approach to clean energy and emerging new technologies, one of the often-overlooked sources of renewable energy is geothermal,” said Brown, R-Kennewick.

“Not only is this a potential source of clean energy, but it is also a great opportunity for our state to collaborate with research facilities such as our own Pacific Northwest National Laboratories.”

Geothermal energy involves heat produced deep in the Earth that is transmitted through volcanic rocks into water. The heated water can be used to generate clean, carbon-free electricity. As such, geothermal is a renewable resource under state law for a number of purposes.

Substitute Senate Bill 6350, which cleared the Senate Energy, Environment and Technology Committee last week but wasn’t considered today by the Ways and Means fiscal committee, would:

  • require the Department of Natural Resources to publish information about geothermal potential on state-owned lands;
  • allow parties exploring for geothermal resources to request a single bond for the whole project, instead of requiring a separate bond for each new well or core hole; and
  • expand the research mission of the state’s Joint Center for Deployment and Research in Earth Abundant Materials to include technology that would allow for the extraction of valuable minerals from underground fluids brought to the surface by geothermal power plants.

Last year lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5470, Brown’s bill to streamline the permitting process for geothermal energy exploration. This year she introduced her new bill to make Washington even more attractive to those investing in geothermal energy exploration after discussions with local experts in the field.

“As I learned from talking with our friends at PNNL, rare earth minerals are often a byproduct of geothermal drilling,” Brown explained. “These materials are extremely valuable, and as the name implies, very rare. Instead of acquiring them from foreign countries hostile to the U.S., advancing geothermal energy would allow us to obtain them right here at home.”

Brown said that today is not the end of her efforts to advance geothermal energy.

“I am disappointed that the Senate majority missed this opportunity to advance geothermal energy, but I will continue my work to move the policy forward this session,” said Brown, noting that no bill is really ever dead as long as the Legislature is still in session.

“Geothermal is not just important to Washington’s clean-energy future, it is also critical to the longer-term economic development and fiscal health of our state.”