WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, has introduced the Enhancing Geothermal Production on Federal Lands Act, a bill to accelerate development of an abundant Idaho resource.

Ninety percent of viable U.S. geothermal resources exist on federal lands. In Idaho alone, the resource is estimated at 800 megawatts – enough to heat 500,000 homes.

“Clearing away unnecessary and duplicative environmental review in the exploratory process is a no brainer,” Labrador said. “Every American will benefit from additional development of clean, renewable and reliable geothermal energy.”

H.R. 4568 would reduce regulatory approval waiting times for small exploratory wells from about 10 months to two months or less. Test holes 8 inches or less in diameter would be granted a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Similar provisions already exist for oil and gas exploration and mining.

The bill also permits coproduction of geothermal resources on lands leased for oil and gas; requires the government to identify priority areas for geothermal development; and authorizes noncompetitive, fair market value leasing by an existing leaseholder on adjoining lands. The leasing provision is drawn from H.R. 4252, a bill introduced in November by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.

Last week, Scott Nichols of Boise-based U.S. Geothermal testified at a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee on a draft version of Labrador’s bill.

“Geothermal energy is one of the cleanest, lowest impact, renewable energy resources,” said Nichols, U.S. Geothermal’s permitting and lands manager. “It uses less land per square foot, per megawatt produced, than any other renewable energy.”

“What your bill really does is address the regulatory implications,” Nichols told Labrador at the hearing, noting that some wells have as many as seven environmental analyses under NEPA. “Even after that exclusion…we will still have to go through at least two additional NEPA analyses before that energy is delivered to market.”

Labrador’s bill has the support of the Geothermal Energy Association and U.S. Geothermal, which has operations in Idaho, Oregon, Nevada and California.

“U.S. Geothermal strongly supports H.R. 4568 proposed by Representative Labrador,” said Douglas Glaspey, Interim Chief Executive Officer of U.S. Geothermal Inc. “We believe that all four provisions of the bill provide essential modifications to the issues related to leasing and developing geothermal resources on federally managed land and provide a catalyst for growth in the geothermal industry.”

Idaho has a long history with geothermal energy, including the heating of the statehouse and offices and homes in Boise. The Idaho National Lab helped develop geothermal in the Raft River area in the 1970s and continues to work on next-generation technology.

To watch Labrador’s interchange with Nichols at last week’s hearing, click here.