WASHINGTON -- The Interior Department plans to make available 190 million acres of federal land in a dozen Western states for development of geothermal energy projects -- a move that could produce enough electricity for 5 million homes.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said Wednesday that under a leasing program, as many as 270 communities could benefit from direct use of geothermal energy, generated from intense heat deep beneath the Earth.
"Geothermal energy is replenished, is a renewable resource that generates electricity with minimal carbon emissions ...(and) reduces the need for conventional energy sources," said Kempthorne.
In Nevada, the Interior Department plan identifies more than 41 million acres available for geothermal leasing, although much of that is BLM-managed property that already has been opened for exploration.
Officials could not say how much new acreage in Nevada will be offered to firms wanting to explore for the geothermal resource. Maps were not available.
Another 5.2 million acres in the Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada are identified as open to leasing. But again it was not clear Wednesday how much is new acreage.
Mel Meier, an assistant deputy state director for the BLM in Nevada, said it is likely that new leasing opportunities will be identified surrounding Elko, Ely and Carson City.
The BLM is proposing to amend land use plans in most parts of Nevada to update geothermal potential throughout the state.
Kempthorne also announced completion of an environmental review of the proposed leasing program which will include both federal forest and rangelands. The national parks such as Yellowstone, which is renowned for its geothermal geysers, remain off-limits to leasing, he said.
The plan, expected to be made final in two months, calls for leasing land to project developers with the proceeds shared by local, state and federal governments.
The Interior Department said it will issue specific land areas that will be open for leasing. Each project will still have to undergo site-specific environmental reviews.
The broader environmental review for the overall leasing program calls for 118 million acres of land managed by Interior's Bureau of Land Management, and 79 million acres under the U.S. Forest Service, to be made available for potential geothermal development.
"These lands hold a huge energy potential," said Kempthorne.
He said it is estimated that the available leases could produce enough energy to generate 5,540 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 5.5 million homes.
The 12 states and number of new leasing areas in each state are Alaska (3), Arizona (8), California (14), Colorado (10), Idaho (20), Montana (8), Nevada (8), New Mexico (9), Oregon (10), Utah (18), Washington (1), and Wyoming (13).
Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault contributed to this report.