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SALT LAKE CITY — A newly approved grant will help bring nearly two dozen high-paying jobs to rural Utah.
The Governor’s Office of Economic Development approved a $365,000 grant in conjunction with the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy. The project will create 23 new jobs with an average full-time wage of $94,000 per year and a capital investment of more than $100 million, according to Rob Simmons, deputy director of the Governor's Office of Energy Development.
"(Geothermal power) has a huge upside for Utah, nationally and globally," Simmons said. "That research is going to be valuable for expanding geothermal power throughout the globe."
Last month, the U.S. Department of Energy declared Utah would receive up to $140 million in funding over five years to build a first-of-its-kind research laboratory to advance next-generation geothermal technologies, a news release stated. The project would also produce construction jobs and other employment opportunities in a rural area of the state that sometimes struggles to sustain long-term job prospects, Simmons said.
"There is a lot of interest in producing geothermal power here in Utah," he said.
The University of Utah’s Energy and Geoscience Institute, in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Energy Development, the Utah Geological Survey and other agencies, leads the project. The program provides a dedicated site where scientists and engineers are able to develop, test and accelerate breakthroughs in enhanced geothermal system technologies and techniques, Simmons said.
"The FORGE project will definitely provide a platform of having greater information and greater understanding, which will likely lead to other commercial-scale geothermal projects here in Utah," he said.
Technology research is crucial to the eventual development of large-capacity energy production, he noted. Utah was the third-largest producer of geothermal energy in the country — producing about 72 megawatts of electricity, enough to power roughly 72,000 homes, he said. But the state has potential to produce even more zero-emission, geothermal energy, he added.
"Utah has about 2,200 megawatts that are close to being commercially viable," he said. Mastering some of the advanced techniques that are being researched could bring even more energy generation capability into play, he said.
Geothermal energy generation produces "baseload" power that can be used 24 hours a day, he explained, unlike other renewable sources like wind and solar that are intermittent.
The University of Utah was one of two final candidates in a nationwide hunt to develop an underground laboratory tapping ways to harness the power of man-made geothermal reservoirs.
The idea is to harness a potential 100 gigawatts of power by injecting cold water deep into the Earth to interact with hot, crystalline rocks — temperatures that are greater than 375 degrees — and subsequently transfer that heat to the surface to produce electricity.
The $365,000 grant was awarded to Beaver County to aid in the construction of infrastructure related to the project, which was a top priority in the county’s economic development plan recently presented to Gov. Gary Herbert.
“The challenge and opportunity in rural Utah is to find unique assets and capitalize on them," said Beaver County economic development director Scott Albrecht. "What looked like useless ground 20 years ago, is now home to a half a billion-dollar renewable energy asset we can hang our hat on."
The geothermal energy project will take Beaver County's renewable energy portfolio to a new level by placing our world-class assets on the world stage, he said.
"FORGE is the realization of years of collaborative work and hundreds of (Office of Energy Development) staff hours in knitting together state and federal agencies to ensure Utah's success in securing an innovative national geothermal field laboratory," said Laura Nelson, the governor's energy adviser and executive director of the state Energy Development Office.
This is a big win for renewable energy in a rural community and the state of Utah, said GOED Executive Director Val Hale.
“A project that has been envisioned for years is now coming true,” he said. “It will enhance the infrastructure for Beaver County and bring an unmatched capital investment to one of our rural communities.”