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‘Super HotRock’ at Newberry Crater could be first renewable energy source of its kind

(Update: Adding video, comments from AltaRock, Environmental Center)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The only energy source of its kind in the world could take shape in Central Oregon in coming years.

In late September, AltaRock Energy announced the results of its latest study near the crater (caldera) of Newberry Volcano. The study found that the high temperature in the impermeable rock at the volcanic crater can be used as an energy source.

Geoff Garrison is the VP at AltaRock Energy, a company who’s been working at the Newberry Volcano since 2010.

“Newberry is probably the biggest untapped geothermal resource in North America,” Garrison said Thursday. 

He said their latest study finds if they dig deeper, to higher-temperature areas, they can produce energy that costs nearly half the price of conventional geothermal, and close to the price of natural gas.

AltaRock's analysis found the Levelized Cost of Electricity would be less than $0.05/kilowatt-hour. The company says a conventional EGS (enhanced geothermal system) resource has an LCOE of $0.10/kilowatt-hour or higher.

Mike Riley, executive director at The Environmental Center in Bend, is aware of the work AltaRock has been doing and generally supportive, though cautious. 

“I actually think it's an exciting opportunity for our community,” Riley said. “I think from an environmental perspective, there are still some questions to answer.”

Riley says he supports the project, but has concerns over its impact on surrounding wildlife, native peoples and its use of water.

Garrison said, “This is not a consumptive use of water, so we’re not using water from the overall water budget. The water is recycled and put back underground, once it is used to extract heat.”

Garrison said the company is working with several government and environmental agencies, including the Energy and Agriculture departments, as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

He said visually, the work will be done out of sight from the visitor center and monument. 

Garrison says they hope to have a plant operational in the next five to eight years, powering between 150,000 and 300,000 homes.

“We have access to pretty much the entire Oregon grid,” Garrison said. 

He said between now and then, there is still more testing to be done on the behavior of rocks at such high temperatures.

“We know more about the surface of Mars than we do what’s underneath our feet,” Garrison said. 

Garrison also noted the risk of causing an earthquake is something they always look out for, but for this type of geothermal energy, the area they go to is so hot, the rocks are softer, and thus the risk of causing a quake is lower. 

Riley said with the effects of climate change already prevalent, any solution is a step in the right direction.

“We all need to figure out how to reduce our piece of it,” Riley said. “It's this big, global problem that’s the sum of a lot of activity, and this is one of the things we can be doing at the local level.”

Garrison said Newberry is the perfect place to start.

“Central Oregon is very energy-rich, when it comes to these resources,” Garrison said. “We think this is a real opportunity for the area around Bend to grow technologically.”

 Although commonly referred to as Newberry Crater, the "crater" is in fact a caldera formed when the overlying rocks collapse when a magma chamber is emptied, the Forest Service says. The caldera stretches across 17 square miles in the heart of the volcano. The 1,200 square mile volcano (about the size of Rhode Island) remains very active to this day. Newberry is both seismically and geothermally active. Geologists believe the caldera sits over a shallow magma body only 2 to 5 kilometers deep.

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Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.

Comments

28 Comments

  1. Their website lays out an ambitious plan, full of familiar optimism found in other clean energy advancements. I think it’s exciting. This is brand new tech, and Newberry is their proof of concept. I’m interested to follow along as they poke holes in a volcano with a plasma drill. I hope AltaRock keeps us informed.

  2. There have been points in the past too where the price of both oil and natural gas have been so cheap that they would be all but “free” to consumers too. So what did the companies in charge of such resources do? Hoard them to create artificially scarcity in order to drive prices up.

    The consumer will never benefit from low cost of production. The system does not tie the sale price of goods to the production cost of good. It is a game the consumer cannot win.

    1. Agreed. The difference is the advanced tech being applied which eliminates limits imposed by mechanical drilling. Using hot rock to generate electricity is not new. The problem is accessing rock hot enough to make it viable. That may be a problem no longer.

      1. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but if Biden won’t allow drilling or fracking on public lands, what makes you think he and the Squad will allow this type of drilling on public lands? Oh!, Riiiight, I forgot they’re all hypocrites.

  3. Can you please elaborate on how they well set this up, where it will be located, and is it already approved? Do they use a fracking style method of drilling down to the heat source?

      1. It’s a horrific method of extraction that ruins all the water near by as they inject a chemical mixture into the ground as they drill that has countless ingredients known to be carcinogenic. They use this for gas extraction and it has absolutely destroyed the lives of the people living in those areas as their water becomes toxic.

  4. I believe this was tried in Thermopolis, Wyo. Ask them how that went…well for one thing it drained a couple of their tourist hot spring pools and as a result the town all but shriveled up and blew away. This was many years ago and it’s still a sore subject.

  5. For starters in order to create Geothermal Energy there needs to be a couple things in place-obviously an active volcano- check mark for Newberry. Then plenty of CLEAN fresh water to fill the wells that they drill/frack…. and last time I checked Oregon experienced a serious drought this summer and in particular the Lapine area, whom currently is still struggling with dried up wells. Furthermore to build a an operation large enough to warrant the so call “Sustainable” and “Renewable” energy it will come at a price- large industrial power plants that emit clouds of steam, noise, and land degradation along with cultural issues. Look into Iceland: the ring leader of the nation when it comes to geothermal energy to look at the scale of these sites. another issue of drilling these wells into the earth is it may trigger earthquakes (Cascadia), you could hit other dangerous gasses trapped in the earth and many other issues. So until Oregon gets a grip on water, animal and land management we have no business embarking into geothermal experiments. When do we learn that the terms sustainability, renewable, and “follow the science” are just buzz words for greed and control. An Idea of a more sustainable future has been green washed by corporate America.

    1. You are correct! Though I don’t believe it will happen. In short terms, it would be like poking a stick in a bear’s but while he is sleeping. Wouldn’t want to be there when he wakes up.

  6. Barney,

    The link to the USGS is full of anti oi/gas activism and is little off the mark..

    The possibility of energy from the geothermal aquifer, is sketchy and dangerous…

    It is an active volcano and the loss of water/containment; used to keep it cool, could also cause it to heat up and boil over/erupt!

    What method will be used to drill into this super hot formation?

    If the ‘rock’ is soft, then any other man made materials will be affected by heat vs cold and expansion variables…
    That does not spell confidence in maintaining control of the well!

    One other thing concerning the environmentalists label.. is this truly for cheap energy, or back door politics to obtain lithium?

  7. Whoa, “drilling will cause an earthquake that will cause the Cascadia to rupture or drilling will cause the volcano to erupt!” That’s not how it works, folks.

    1. Martha you need a hit of reality! Or a learn how to utilize comprehensive reading. I did not say it Will 100% cause a quake nor did Walter say it Will 100% erupt. But it is a possible outcome. Quite trying to cause problems on the Forum. These are valid concerns and unless you can contribute to the conversation with educational information please refrain yourself from thinking you always have something valuable to say. I am not opposed to learning something from someone from a different point of view, but reading a comment that just says they think someone is wrong by trying to make fun of their intelligence is a waste of everyone’s time and most importantly my time.

      1. Ok, here’s some reality for you…… Neither are possible outcomes. The Cascadia is a thrust fault in a rather large active subduction zone. Downward movement of the fault and subsequent melting of the land mass as it reaches a certain depth and melting point with raising of the melted mass between fissures in the earth is what causes the eruption of volcanoes along the Cascades.The Brothers Fault that is closest to Newberry Caldera is part of the Sister Faults systems that consists of a series of normal faults. There is no interconnection with the Cascadia Subduction Zone and anything done that effects the Brothers Fault is not going effect the Cascadia Subduction Zone (and that includes small quakes that may be the result of fracking.) Newberry Volcano is at the intersection of the Cascades, Basin and Range and Oregon Lava Plateau. Geologists are continuing to study how the combination of these zones have created the large composite or shield type volcano. Volcanoes are huge, powerful and complex creatures, poking a small hole and pumping in some water is not going to cause it to erupt, it’s a lot more complex than that.

      1. Now you’re wasting my time. There was no implication by me that fracturing did not cause small earthquakes. Find an article if you can, that supports your conclusion that small man caused earthquakes on a normal fault hundreds of miles away from a main subduction zone will eventually cause the rupture of that zone or that drilling into the side of a caldera will cause the eruption of that volcano. Try looking at the USGS site, there’s hundreds of small earthquakes happening continually throughout the Pacific Northwest including larger ones on the Juan de Fuca plate that do impact the Cascadia. The subduction zone is not going to rupture until a section of the rocks breach their zone of elasticity and Newberry is not going to erupt until the forces beneath start moving the magma up into its chamber. Stop trying to scare people. We already have enough garbage being thrown around out there!

  8. This again!? ,I have to keep reminding myself this attempt at geothermal energy on Paulina peak is NOTHING NEW.
    This will be the third attempt at finding a usefull resource since about 1998 (NOT 2010).
    The 90’s drill pads sit empty/gated and vegetation free at about 10+ acres each (3 of which I had been to)with rotting tarps in the holding ponds and abandoned outbuildings.
    First attempt was utter failure as I heard directly from workers,wells were too hot to be put to use and was collapsing well casings which are still in the ground and the wells are capped.
    Second “exploration” probably 2010 time left many capped test wells scattered all over the sides on Paulina,I know of 2 right off hand a few miles East of Hwy 20 ,North slope of the mountain,,capped and abandoned.
    I had high hopes in the 90’s,but after seeing what has NOT been accomplished on Paulina Mnt ,and what has turned into failure (and corruption) at Paisley and Lakeview I see this as another money grab,dig a hole,leave the mess and run with the government funding,Im going out on a limb here and guessing the latest “climate change” bill funding has to do with this revival of a “dream”,meanwhile the Newberry “monument” where no logging is allowed is getting drilled like swiss cheese,yes all the abandoned drill pads from the 90’s are within monument boundaries on the West slope and plainly visible on Google earth.The city of Klamath falls has been using geothermal heat for MANY years for homes and streets, I wish our local area luck and maybe look to the south to learn.

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