Transcript: Thom Hartmann & Michael Yackira - Geothermal energy. August 30, 2011

Thom Hartmann: Welcome back Thom Hartmann here with you from Las Vegas. We’re at the National Clean Energy Summit 4.0. And Michael Yackira is with us, right? Michael? And with Nevada, NVEnergy.com. Let me turn your mic up.

Michael Yackira: How’s that?

Thom Hartmann: Yeah that sounds a whole lot better. And formerly with Sierra Pacific Resources. Tell us what’s going on here, tell us what your role in all this is and why we should care. Or why our listeners should.

Michael Yackira: This summit has been going on for four years now. I have been fortunate enough to be asked to speak at each one of these events and I think it’s because NV Energy has been a leader in renewable energy development throughout the Untied States. We’re a small state. But if you look at what we’ve done in geothermal resources and solar resources, we are certainly a leader and there’s a lot more to come.

Thom Hartmann: So what are you doing in those areas?

Michael Yackira: Well we are developing projects along with others to assure that the geothermal resources, which is basically just drilling to get steam to come out of the ground, capture it and made into electricity. Very clean form of making electricity. That as much of it for Nevada can be captured for the benefit of Nevada.

Thom Hartmann: Is there, you know, everybody knows about the giant Yellowstone, someday it may blow up and take out the planet volcano kind of stuff. Is it that extension of that geothermal stuff that’s here?

Michael Yackira: It’s obviously much more under control.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah.

Michael Yackira: The magma that’s underneath the ground is anywhere from 250 feet to several thousand feet and similar to drilling for natural gas or oil you have to drill into the ground to find out whether the resource exists. If it does then you build power plants around it using the steam as the resource for creating electricity.

Thom Hartmann: Right. Okay so you’d use the power plants the same way you would oil or gas or nuclear or anything else, basically just to generate steam.

Michael Yackira: Yeah. What’s interesting about it is that a geothermal plant is exactly the same as any other traditionally fossil fuel power plant other than it doesn’t produce emissions and that it’s available all the time.

Thom Hartmann: This is what gas liners are doing.

Michael Yackira: Yes. Solar power, you need the sun. Wind, you need the wind to blow. Geothermal is available all the time.

Thom Hartmann: Does it deplete or does it, it seems like rock eventually would cool down. Or is there enough magma motion down below that whatever heat you’re pulling out of it is going to get replenished.

Michael Yackira: That’s exactly the, it’s the only issue that exists with the length of time that a geothermal plant is available in that how long will it be before that resource does come down in temperature.

Thom Hartmann: Before the rock has been cooled down.

Michael Yackira: And what the geothermal companies do is they reinject water into the ground to keep that steam regenerated and that seems to work. It’s been, geothermal resources have been developed since the 1960s. Nevada has been involved since the 1980s and it’s our key resource for renewable energy in the state.

Thom Hartmann: Wow, that’s amazing given how much sunlight there is in this state.

Michael Yackira: Well there is a lot of sun to be developed but you have two things. One it does get dark and people want their power when the sun doesn’t shine or when it’s dark.

Thom Hartmann: Sure.

Michael Yackira: And secondly it’s expensive in comparison to geothermal. So if you look at cost, solar is the most expensive, next is wind…

Thom Hartmann: Well nuclear is the most expensive.

Michael Yackira: Well I’m just talking about as far as renewables are concerned. First is solar, next is wind, next is geothermal. Geothermal is the least expensive.

Thom Hartmann: Okay. Solar, my understanding is we’re running about seven cents a kilowatt hour these days?

Michael Yackira: Not close, not close. About twice that.

Thom Hartmann: About twice that? Wow, I just got a brochure from a company in Massachusetts saying that they’re, that 7.3 cents...

Michael Yackira: Don’t see how that is possible. Technology does not exist.

Thom Hartmann: So you’re saying it’s about 14 cents a kilowatt hour?

Michael Yackira: About 14. and it was about 23 cents a kilowatt hour just four years ago. So it’s come down dramatically.

Thom Hartmann: Right, so we’re seeing Moore’s Law here at work.

Michael Yackira: In some respect. We certainly hope that’s the case. Because we do have more sunshine than almost any other state in the U.S.

Thom Hartmann: So your geothermal cost is what?

Michael Yackira: About 8 cents.

Thom Hartmann: Around 8 cents a kilowatt hour. What do you say to those folks who would argue that large centralized power systems are like useful things for companies that want to control energy markets or make money but between line losses and centralization we really should be looking at decentralization. I mean, (A) is this the sort of thing that neighborhoods could do, non-profits could do, communities could do. And (B), well b, my original answer I guess or my original question.

Michael Yackira: Well if you’re talking about distributed generation using photovoltaics, you’re talking about with, you’re not talking about doing it small…

Thom Hartmann: That’s what Germany is doing right now, a third of their houses.

Michael Yackira: Well yes, but Germany, the German market has fallen apart. When they took subsidies out of the market, the market has fallen apart.

Thom Hartmann: Well they’re generating 10 gigawatts of power right now.

Michael Yackira: Yeah when they were charging 50 cents a kilowatt hour for that, the average price in this state is 12 cents a kilowatt hour. So we have to keep it in perspective with respect to what the cost pressures are. Renewable energy is great and it’s a great hedge against fuel costs and technology will be driven down as far as costs are concerned but if everybody was using solar power the cost of energy would be twice as much.

Thom Hartmann: Well just for the record, I did a conference in Germany with a guy, Shuber was it I guess [Sheer?], the guy who introduced the legislation. And the reason that there was a ten year limit on paying, it was not five, it was seven times, seven times market price. Was because that was the exact amount of time that it took to pay off. It was ten year mortgages on the solar roof panels.

Michael Yackira: Exactly.

Thom Hartmann: So once you’re no longer paying your solar roof panel mortgage, because now you own it, you no longer get the subsidy and the electricity. The electricity is still being generated and people are not having to pay their mortgage but they’re not getting the money back from the power company so it’s basically a wash. But I didn’t want to debate German solar with you I wanted to find out…

Michael Yackira: Yeah, it’s much more complicated than that. If the price of solar panels was low enough to compete with generation, and I said this in the press. You know we should be part of that. We should be producing that.

Thom Hartmann: Right. So is this the kind of thing that communities could do?

Michael Yackira: They could, they couldn’t do it…

Thom Hartmann: How far down do you have to drill?

Michael Yackira: Oh you’re talking about geothermal?

Thom Hartmann: Yeah.

Michael Yackira: No way. I mean you’re talking about a million dollars a hole.

Thom Hartmann: Ah.

Michael Yackira: It’s very expensive.

Thom Hartmann: This is basically centralized power systems. Okay. And I understand out here in Nevada that this is one of the places where one of the giant solar collector boiling water things is being built. Is your company involved in that?

Michael Yackira: Yes. Yes. This is what I’m going to be talking about later when I speak at the conference. It’s, what’s different about it is it’s using molten salt to store energy so that we can continue to produce electricity when the sun has gone down.

Thom Hartmann: Aha. So you’ve got a solar, a storage system.

Michael Yackira: A storage system. It will take us through about 10 or 11 o’clock at night which is great.

Thom Hartmann: Very Good. Michael Yackir of Nevada Energy

Michael Yackira: NVEnergy.

Thom Hartmann: NVEnergy.com. Thank you Michael for being with us. Great talking with you.

Michael Yackira: Appreciate it.

Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.

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