Calpine is the largest operator of geothermal power plants at The Geysers, a 45-square-mile area in northern Sonoma County where ambient underground heat is close enough to the surface to generate steam from groundwater.
Calpine produces enough power there to satisfy the needs of San Francisco, or 60 percent of the needs of the North Coast. Mike Rogers is senior vice president of Calpine Geothermal Operations.
Q: Please describe the scale of the geothermal power generation currently occurring at the Geysers, as well as the facilities operated by Calpine in the area.
[caption id="attachment_62623" align="alignleft" width="200"] Mike Rogers[/caption]
A: Calpine Corporation operates 15 geothermal power plants in The Geysers region of northern California and is capable of generating up to 725 megawatts of green energy around the clock. Unlike other renewable resources such as wind or sunlight, which depend upon intermittent sources to generate power, making them less reliable, geothermal power provides a consistent source of energy as evidenced by our Geysers availability record of approximately 98 percent in 2011.
For the past 11 consecutive years, The Geysers have continued to generate about 6 million megawatt-hours per year, which represents approximately 20 percent of California’s renewable electric generation. Calpine Corporation is the nation’s largest renewable geothermal power producer, providing 41 percent of U.S. geothermal generation.
Q: Steam production peaked at the Geysers in the late 1980s, enough to produce 2,000 megawatts of electricity. That output gradually declined in the following years, currently holding steady at 750 megawatts. What caused that decline, and what is Calpine doing to help preserve the current output?
A: Sustainable power generation at The Geysers is possible today because of two large-scale wastewater-injection projects from Lake County and the city of Santa Rosa. Together, these projects provide approximately 20 million gallons of reclaimed water per day for injection into The Geysers reservoir. The vast amount of heat in reservoir rocks efficiently converts the water into steam and supplements the production of steam from the original reservoir to Geysers power plants.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, vastly more steam was produced from The Geysers reservoir than was replaced by the injection of power plant steam condensate. By 1989, accelerated development had caused severe steam pressure decreases in the reservoir, resulting in lower steam production rates. This decline threatened the future sustainability of Geysers power generation.