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SALT LAKE CITY — Plans by the University of Utah to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable resources were among the developments in Utah's geothermal energy arena highlighted at a global summit Monday.
The university is partnering with Utah-based Cyrq Energy, Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables and Rocky Mountain Power in a proposal to move to 20 megawatts of geothermal energy and 10 megawatts of solar for the next 25 years.
Under the innovative partnership, which needs regulatory approval from the Public Service Commission, the university would draw on geothermal juice produced in Fallon, Nevada, and a solar energy project in Tooele County purchased from Rocky Mountain Power.
“This project connects the university to a diverse array of energy resources that are important to the economic health of our state,” U. President David W. Pershing said in a prepared statement.
“Both our Energy and Geoscience Institute and our Department of Geology and Geophysics are known for their work on geothermal resources. We are pleased to be part of a project that so closely aligns with our research strengths and allows the university to take a dramatic step forward on its climate commitment and toward improving air quality,” Pershing said.
The proposal is possible under legislation sponsored by Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, and approved by the Utah Legislature earlier this year that allows it to be weighed by the Public Service Commission.
Amy Wildermuth, the university's chief sustainability officer, said the U. becomes the first in the state to pursue the large-scale purchase of off-site renewable energy under the law's modification. It also will become the first university to turn to geothermal energy as a renewable resource.
"We wanted to get in the market and inspire others to think more seriously about geothermal energy because it has such great possibilities," Wildermuth said.
At Monday's plenary session of the Geothermal Resources Council's annual meeting and the Geothermal Energy Association's GEOEXPO+, Gov. Gary Herbert also detailed advancements in FORGE Utah, which is unfolding near Milford, Beaver County.
The University of Utah and Sandia Laboratories in Nevada are sharing $29 million in U.S. Department of Energy funding in a fierce competition to be the ultimate destination for an underground geothermal lab.
FORGE, or Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy, is a subsurface laboratory where scientists and engineers will develop, test and accelerate breakthrough technology in enhanced geothermal systems.
The university's principal investigator, Joseph Moore, said the project has already drilled a 7,500-foot-deep demonstration well — ahead of its Nevada competitor.
The project seeks to transfer heat from hot, crystalline rock formations to create electricity for use in homes, cities, industry and vehicles — a feat that will be tested and, if all goes to plan, proven in Utah.
Moore said the location is ideally suited to demonstrate the benefits of enhanced geothermal technologies, given that it has been intensely investigated and drilled by scientists, students and companies since the mid-1970s.
Utah, which ranks third in the country for geothermal energy production, has the potential for as much as 12,400 gigawatt hours of geothermal energy, or 11 percent of the state's baseload power.
Projects in development include Thermo Hot Springs in Beaver County, Drum Mountain and Cricket in Millard County, and Cove Fort II in Beaver and Millard counties.
Moore said the FORGE competition includes a report deadline in mid-March, with final selection by June or July.