For immediate release: January 31, 2000
Media Contact: Claudia Chandler -- 916 654-4989

Imperial County Project to Spur New Business Tied to Geothermal Electricity Production

Calipatria, California-The California Energy Commission and CalEnergy Generation unveiled a project today to spur yet another business tied to geothermal energy production in the Salton Sea region.

When brought to commercial fruition, the newly announced development project will extract high-grade silica and manganese from brine brought up daily in CalEnergy's geothermal energy production.

"By perfecting ways to extract valuable minerals in the geothermal process, we help to bring down the cost of geothermal power and make it more attractive," said Vice Chair David Rohy, the California Energy Commission's representative at today's presentation. "As the Energy Commission celebrates its 25th anniversary, we are proud to continue our long history of support for the geothermal industry. On the cutting edge of geothermal technology, California presently produces 2,500 of the 2,800 megawatts of geothermal power now available on the Western grid."

Representing CalEnergy at today's presentation were Jim Turner, Vice President of Operations, and Jonathan Weisgall, Vice President for Legislative and Regulatory Affairs at MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, CalEnergy's parent company.

"This project enhances the U.S. Department of Energy's recently announced plans to advance research in geothermal energy in the West," said Robert S. Silberman, President of CalEnergy Company, Inc. "California is fortunate that its geology makes geothermal energy sources accessible."

CalEnergy produces 330 megawatts of electricity from eight geothermal plants in the northern part of Imperial County. The company developed an environmentally friendly way to extract zinc from the geothermal brine that it brings to the surface to produce electricity.

A $200 million facility is now being constructed at CalEnergy's West Lindsey Road plant in Calipatria, about 90 miles south of Palm Springs, that company officials hope can recover some 30,000 metric tons of zinc annually.

To sustain research into the extraction of additional minerals, the Energy Commission awarded CalEnergy Generation a $904,340 matching grant through the Commission's Geothermal Resources Development Account.

The research grant will help to develop chemical processing methods to recover high-purity silica and manganese and to construct a pilot-scale production facility.

"When finally perfected, the silica and manganese extraction method would add another 50 to 60 full-time jobs in this part of Imperial County," said Turner, who heads CalEnergy's geothermal operations.

In a typical Salton Sea geothermal plant, high-temperature brines are "flashed" in pressure vessels to produce steam to drive a turbine and generate electricity. In this process, CalEnergy's plants produce more than 100 tons of material daily.

If successful, this pilot project could help to reduce waste, save valuable landfill space, and reduce operations and maintenance costs while producing a valuable product.

With revenue from federal geothermal leases, the Energy Commission's Geothermal Grant and Loan Program has awarded funds to more than 150 geothermal projects throughout California. Construction funded by the GRDA has added approximately $40 million to the State's gross product. Since its inception, the program has generated $11 million in payroll, $1 million in State tax revenues, and created approximately 370 jobs.

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