AltaRock Energy informed the U.S. Department of Energy on Friday, Dec. 11, that it is abandoning its major geothermal demonstration project at The Geysers, north of San Francisco. It already had disclosed in September that it was finding drilling into deep rock more difficult than expected, and last summer the company reacted defensively to reports that a similar project near Basel, Switzerland, had induced earthquakes. On Dec. 10, the day before the California announcement came the disclosure that the Basel project was being ditched. The technical leader of that project, meanwhile, faces judicial charges in Switzerland that he had proceeded with the drilling technique knowing of possible earthquake damage.
The techniques being developing in Switzerland and California involve fracturing bedrock, so that water can be circulated through the fissures to generate steam. AltaRock had obtained about $6 million from DOE for The Geysers project, and around $30 million venture capital from investors such as Google, Khosla Ventures, and Kleiner Perkins, according to a New York Times report.
These are not the only major green energy projects to go under in recent months. Earlier in the fall TRU Energy, a subsidiary of CLP in Hong Kong, announced it was writing off its whole investment in Solar Systems' 154-megawatt solar project in Mildura, Australia. To be built at an estimated cost of 420 million Australian dollars, the installation was to consist of curved mirrors that would track the sun and focus light on high-efficiency photovoltaic material, to generate electricity. With a projected capacity factor of 20 percent, it would have produced 270,000 MWh of electricity per year, enough for about 45,000 homes.
The PV concentrator plant was not the only innovative solar project to be slated for Mildura, by the way. A town of about 30,000 people in norhwestern Victoria, with a semi-arid Mediterranean climate, Mildura may yet be home to a proposed solar tower, in which the upward convection of air would drive a turbine.
Or will that too turn out to be an exciting green energy idea that just doesn't quite cut it technically or economically?