Geothermal plant wins state backing

A GEOTHERMAL energy project near Geelong has landed a $25 million state government grant to help develop a 12-megawatt pilot power plant.
Nanjing Night Net

Greenearth Energy, which secured the money yesterday, says its plans for the demonstration plant could power up to 8000 homes.

The grant follows two years of negotiations with both Labor and Coalition governments to secure the funds under the state’s Energy Technology Innovation Strategy, first promised in 2009.

The first $5 million will go towards drilling a four-kilometre deep well to test the geothermal resource at one of the company’s exploration sites. Greenearth holds exploration licences for Gherang, Wensleydale and Anglesea, and a preferred site will be announced in three months.

Greenearth managing director Mark Miller told The Age the company would now seek cash from the federal government’s $126 million Emerging Renewables Program to fund the rest of the $18 million needed for the first exploration well, expected to be drilled in early 2013.

If the first well test is successful, Greenearth will drill a second exploration well, costing $14 million, and then hopes to start building the 12-megawatt pilot plant, which will cost a little more than $100 million, after 2015. Twenty million dollars of the state grant is tied to the pilot plant being built.

State Energy Minister Michael O’Brien said the company would have to ”satisfy rigorous and comprehensive planning and environmental regulations and carry out local community consultation before any work could begin”.

The grant comes at an important time for the Australian geothermal industry, which has felt the pinch following the global financial crisis and slow progress of some high-profile projects.

Greenearth is one of four companies that lost federal drilling grants in August when they could not secure matching funding from private investors.

A review of the geothermal industry by Allen Consulting in March – commissioned by the federal government and quietly uploaded last month onto the Energy Department’s website – found the industry will be limited to ”niche market developments” if new government and private investment is not found.

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