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Q: Can you confirm that there are at least 32 proposed or planned geothermal power plants to be constructed at the Salton Sea? How many megawatts of power would these plants be capable of producing? Currently, there are 8 existing geothermal plants. Their current technology requires 20% make-up water, which they are now buying from the IID and farmers. This is fresh Colorado River water of approximately 3,000-6,000 acre feet per year per 50 megawatt plant. With 8 plants, already that is around 50,000 acre feet per year. The proposed additional 32 plants will possibly require another 200,000 acre feet per year of fresh make-up water injected back into the geothermal brine.
A current proposal calls for using Salton Sea bottom water as make-up, and put the fresh water into the Sea. Is this a realistic option for geothermal energy producers?
A: The Imperial Irrigation District, Geothermal Energy Association, and EES Consulting have estimated that there is 1600 MW of geothermal energy in the Salton Sea Known Geothermal Resource Area. The recent Salton Sea Restoration and Renewable Energy Initiative (SSRREI) outlines the possibility for up to 32 geothermal power plants, each producing 50 MW of power in the Southeast region of the Sea (See figures 7-9 through 7-11 of the SSRREI).
Make-up water is used to replenish water lost in the evaporative heating process of geothermal energy production. It may not be possible to use Salton Sea water as make-up water because the high salt content could corrode the flash tank.
However, if the Colorado River water that is used by geothermal suddenly became available, we’re not sure who would get the first priority. That water may go to San Diego before the Salton Sea. Also if the plans for building habitats, such as at Red Hill Bay, are approved, that freshwater would more likely be used in constructed wetlands to support threatened bird and fish species while keeping the main body of the Sea at a high salinity.