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Geothermal energy: Texas can tap into the heat beneath our feet

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by Danny Rehg and Sean Marshall

Texas is well known as an energy and economic powerhouse. Given Texas’ global leadership in oil, natural gas, and renewable energy, it comes as no surprise that we are also pursuing the abundant geothermal energy resources within Texas.  Using skills from over 100 years of drilling activity, Texas will inevitably become the epicenter of geothermal energy development. In addition, Texas touts and attracts from other states a robust and technical workforce and is known for displaying unprecedented leadership and grit. These factors contribute to the state’s reputation as the world’s energy capital.  What we admire most about the state is our culture of resourcefulness, innovation, and leadership.  To continue our track record as a leader in the energy sector, both in the United States and the world, we must ensure that our state utilizes all the tools available to advance our industries, create jobs, grow our capital investments, and secure and increase our energy supply with clean, reliable, cost-effective baseload energy. In Texas, we can accelerate all of these priorities with geothermal energy. This legislative session, State Rep. Drew Darby (R – San Angelo) has made notable strides for the future of Texas energy by authoring game-changing legislation to advance geothermal energy development. 

Bills filed by Rep. Darby are poised to unlock the immense future of geothermal energy, a resource that is developed utilizing the same tools, technology, and talent as the oil and gas sector, and by applying Texas’ already robust regulatory certainty and permitting protocol to this segment of the energy sector. 

The proposed legislation includes Texas House Bill 1336, which will establish a clear definition of geothermal estate ownership in Texas, and House Bill 1318, which will transfer jurisdiction of specific geothermal wells that take advantage of closed-loop systems to the Texas Railroad Commission. By passing these two bills, Texas will establish clear rules for the industry and serve as a signal to the investment community that Texas is open for geothermal business.  

Geothermal energy is an abundant resource that is produced by installing a power plant and drilling a well to the geothermal resource below it.  The geothermal resource consists of subsurface heat that can be converted to utility-scale power delivered through the electric grid or produced as heat for district heating.  Geothermal energy is virtually free of carbon emissions. It serves as a reliable source of dispatchable energy that is resilient to weather events, can aid in creating new options for off-grid power, and can help strengthen the power grid across the state.  

A credible foundation for future geothermal development within Texas has been established with the release of a recent study titled, “The Future of Geothermal in Texas: The Coming Century of Growth & Prosperity in the Lone Star State”.  The research project, led by Project Innerspace, features input from The University of Texas at Austin, Southern Methodist University, Rice University, Texas A&M University, and the University of Houston, as well as the University Lands Office and the International Energy Agency.  

Our company, Criterion Energy Partners, is a practical case study of a team that was established in traditional oil and gas industry but evolved into some of Texas’ early geothermal entrepreneurs. Our experience illustrates the importance of leveraging our strong background in the oil and gas arena as an accelerated path for future geothermal innovation for the current generation and generations to come. 

With renewed focus on grid reliability, geothermal energy can play a vital role in the ERCOT grid of the future because of its firm, dispatchable, low carbon and weatherproof characteristics.  Our goal now is to work with the Legislature this session to position Texas as the leader in geothermal energy development.

On behalf of the geothermal energy industry, we applaud Rep. Darby’s recognition of the parallels and synergies of the oil and gas industry with the state’s potential in geothermal development.  His solutions are common-sense approaches to challenges that would otherwise obstruct an essential resource for the state’s continued economic development and energy independence.  It’s time we harness the heat beneath our feet.  

Danny Rehg and Sean Marshall are co-founders of Criterion Energy Partners, a Texas-based geothermal development company. Criterion Energy Partners is a member of the Texas Geothermal Energy Alliance.