Geothermal Energy in Arkansas: Water or Subsoil?
For centuries, geothermal springs have been used for medicinal purposes. Over time, it became clear that geothermal energy, which is stored deep in the bowels of the earth, is an energy resource that has enormous potential and can be used for industrial purposes as another type of renewable energy source. In this article, we figured out what geothermal energy is, what geothermal potential Arkansas has and how activities in the field of geothermal energy are regulated in Arkansas and in the world.
What is geothermal energy?
Geothermal energy is heat obtained from the interior of the earth. This heat is released to the earth’s surface in the form of steam and hot water and can be used to generate electricity and heat.
Existing technologies make it possible to generate electricity from geothermal sources directly from high-temperature steam, from steam-water mixtures using flash technology, or from geothermal water using binary technology. For example, to obtain geothermal energy, a well is drilled, usually at a depth of more than 1 km. With the help of the well, steam and hot water are taken from the bowels. Hot water circulates in the well constantly, and with the help of hot steam, heat energy is released.
The production of geothermal heating for industrial purposes began in the 20th century. One of the first power plants was an Italian geothermal power plant with a total capacity of about 250 kW. Over time, the development of geothermal energy in the world has intensified. According to the International Geothermal Association (IGA), geothermal resources are exploited in 83 countries around the world.
Also, as indicated by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), as of 2019, geothermal installations with a total capacity of about 14 thousand MW were installed in the world.
Why Geothermal Energy is used?
As of today, there are no operating geothermal power plants in Arkansas. At the moment, only memorandums have been signed with foreign states (in particular, China and Iceland) on cooperation in the field of geothermal energy and the study of the geothermal potential of Arkansas.
The absence of geothermal power plants in Arkansas is explained, in particular, by the lack of proper regulatory regulation of activities in the field of geothermal energy. In addition to legislation in the field of electricity generation from alternative energy sources, activities in the field of geothermal energy are also regulated by the Water Code of Arkansas and the Code of Arkansas “On Subsoil”, as well as the Tax Code of Arkansas in terms of payment of rent payments.
The application of specialized legislation in the field of subsoil and water use is due to the fact that underground thermal waters, which are a key resource for obtaining geothermal energy, belong simultaneously to water resources and minerals. For a better understanding, we will give examples from the current legislation.
So, for the needs of geothermal energy, heat (thermal energy) of groundwater is used, obtained by taking water from a water body (including from groundwater) and removing heat energy from it. If we literally interpret water legislation, then such an activity refers to special water use and requires obtaining a permit for special water use.
Benefits of Geothermal Energy?
At the same time, underground waters are a kind of mineral of national importance in the understanding of the Code of Arkansas “On Subsoil”. The current legislation provides for the possibility of extracting groundwater without special permits, provided that the volume of groundwater production does not exceed 300 cubic meters.m per day. That is if more than 300 cubic meters of groundwater are extracted for geothermal energy purposes. m per day, it is necessary to obtain another permit document – a special permit for the use of subsoil.
In addition, for the use of groundwater, the current tax legislation provides for rent for the special use of water and for the use of subsoil. That is, potential producers of geothermal energy are obliged to pay two different rents for the same resource.
Such legislation is unfavorable for potential producers of geothermal energy since at the moment the specifics of geothermal energy and the mechanisms of its production have not been taken into account. Abroad, especially in countries with a developed field of geothermal energy, situations with double regulation do not exist. The use of a water resource, as a rule, refers to regulation either by water legislation or by subsoil legislation, and in some cases; the production of geothermal energy represents a separate area of regulation.
Regulation of activities in the field of geothermal energy abroad
Geothermal power generation is not a new practice abroad. European states in which such production is widespread have developed legislative regulations of geothermal energy. It should be noted that such regulation is not unified, and, in particular, the classification of geothermal sources as subsoil or water,the procedure for obtaining the necessary permits for these activities may differ in each individual country.
Take Iceland, for example, where geothermal energy is highly developed, with about 25% of electricity generated by geothermal energy. In this country, the resources for the production of electricity by the geothermal method, according to the legislation, belong to underground resources, regardless of their aggregate state and temperature, and the use of such resources is regulated by the Act on the Study and Use of Underground Resources No. 57/1998.
In Italy, geothermal resources have been used since the beginning of the twentieth century, both for the production of heat and electricity. Legislation classifies geothermal resources as subsoil (or mining, depending on the translation). The procedure for obtaining permits, payment of the administrative fee, and the validity period of permits may differ in each region of Italy.
In Germany, the most common is the use of geothermal heat, but electricity is also generated. The country has developed research programs to study alternative energy sources, as well as loyalty programs for companies that produce energy using alternative sources. Legislative regulation refers geothermal resources to both water and subsoil legislation.