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Geothermal energy contract set to boost Glendale’s renewable portfolio by 11%

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Whitegrass No. 1, pictured, a geothermal energy project in Nevada, will provide Glendale with 3 megawatts of renewable energy beginning this April. Another geothermal project being constructed by the same operator will provide the city with an additional 13.5 megawatts by April of next year. Together, the projects will boost the city’s renewable portfolio by about 11%.
(Courtesy of GWP)

Glendale’s renewable-energy portfolio is slated to get a boost with the recent approval of a contract to purchase geothermal energy from a pair of projects — Whitegrass and Star Peak — located in Nevada.

On Tuesday, City Council members voted to enter into a 25-year contract with Open Mountain Energy that will eventually provide the city with 15.5 megawatts of geothermal energy annually. Glendale Water & Power officials said the energy would be delivered at a competitive price of about $67.50 to $70.25 per megawatt-hour.

Negotiated through Southern California Public Power Authority, or SCPPA, of which Glendale is a member, the deal was hailed by both city officials and environmentalists as a step toward meeting sustainability goals.

“We owe it to our residents and to the global environment to get off gas, carbon-based power, as soon as we can, and this is bringing something in right away,” Mayor Ara Najarian said shortly before the contract was approved.

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All cities in California are required to rely on 100% clean energy sources by 2045, under state law.

By 2022-23, the projects are expected to kick Glendale’s renewable energy sources to 56% of its total energy portfolio.

About two years ago, the city’s energy portfolio was comprised of 36% renewable sources. That percentage was pushed up to about 45% this past December when council members voted to purchase a small share of a large forthcoming solar and battery storage project in the Mojave Desert known as Eland 1.

Geothermal energy is derived by unleashing heat buried within the earth to create steam, which is then converted into electricity. Unlike solar and wind energy, geothermal can produce energy around the clock, said Mark Young, the utility’s deputy general manager.

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“The geothermal contracts will provide clean and renewable generation 24 hours a day, fulfill Glendale’s needs as it increases its renewable portfolio and displaces the use of fossil fuels, and utilize valuable transmission infrastructure for its delivery to Glendale,” Luis Amezcua, a senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club, wrote in a letter to the council.

The Whitegrass No.1 project, located in Lyon County, Nev., will provide the city with 3 megawatts of geothermal energy annually for the duration of the contract beginning this April.

Glendale is slated to receive an additional 12.5 megawatts from the Star Peak Project, which will be constructed in Pershing County, Nev. It’s expected to begin delivering energy to Glendale in April of next year.

Both projects will cost the city about $8,577,500 annually, or $213,845,625 over the 25-year contract term, according to a city report. GWP estimates that the zero-carbon energy will reduce its carbon emissions by 52,600 metric tons per year.

Councilman Vrej Agajanian expressed concern that the market price for geothermal energy could drop in the next quarter century, pointing to falling solar energy prices. He added that technology could change during the contract term, possibly leaving the city with an outdated asset.

“This is a great project, but still I have [a] problem with the way it’s been set,” said Agajanian, who ultimately voted to approve the contract.

“Tomorrow, they will come up with some new ideas that we’re unaware of today,” he added.

Steve Zurn, the utility’s general manager, said prices for geothermal energy may rise as cities across the state increasingly seek out clean-energy sources to meet the state mandate. He added that geothermal energy has a scarcity factor because it can only be produced in some geographic areas.

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Glendale is also in talks for a potential solar-energy contract for a project in Utah, according to officials.

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