When Colorado Governor Jared Polis became chair of the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) in July 2022, he set his sights on geothermal energy and advancing its potential in the western United States. He launched an ambitious initiative—The Heat Beneath Our Feet (HBOF)—to examine opportunities for and barriers to increased deployment of geothermal energy for both electricity generation and heating and cooling.
The initiative’s kick-off set a year of exploration into motion. Through online surveys, tours, a webinar series, and workshops, WGA solicited input and examined how to expand geothermal development in the West. The last of these tours and workshops convened state and federal officials, industry leaders, and utility representatives at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). At the event, Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO) Acting Director Lauren Boyd applauded the WGA’s leadership: “We’re excited that Governor Polis and the Western Governors’ Association are taking a proactive approach to bring geothermal to western states, and we know it will inspire other regions and organizations to do the same,” she shared.
The WGA initiative is not the first time western states have championed the growth of the geothermal industry and geothermal’s role in the nation’s energy mix. New state legislation is giving geothermal a bigger seat at the table and tackling challenges such as permitting timelines. In Colorado, Governor Polis signed two bills into law during the 2022 legislative session that extended existing solar energy provisions and created a grant program for researching, developing, and investing in geothermal. He went on to sign a bill in May 2023 renaming the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to the Energy and Carbon Management Commission and granting it exclusive authority to regulate deep geothermal operations. In California, a 2021 order from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) directed utilities to build more clean energy projects and integrate higher amounts of renewable power. The CPUC augmented that order’s clean energy procurement requirements in 2023, including requiring 2,000 megawatts of geothermal.
Why the interest and investment in geothermal in the West? Because geothermal energy presents enormous opportunity for firm, flexible, clean power that can provide local jobs and help states reach clean energy targets, and because optimal conditions for geothermal electricity generation are plentiful in the region.
In 2023, WGA members assembled for their annual meeting and the culmination of the HBOF effort. The meeting featured the release of the HBOF report, which makes recommendations to increase geothermal deployment in the West, including improving resource assessment and data collection, mitigating risk in drilling and exploration, implementing incentives for consumer adoption, and developing a workforce and contractor ecosystem. The report also calls for expanding GTO funding opportunities, increasing DOE funding for demonstration projects, and encouraging investments in energy transition communities.