The Montana Geothermal Program was established by Sage Resources of Missoula, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the State of Montana in May, 2005. The goal of this program is to identify and update geothermal information for Montana. This website provides the access to regional, site-specific and general geothermal energy information applicable to site development in Montana.
The potential for geothermal development in Montana, and all Western states, continues to be assessed. The Department of Energy's GDOET program has compiled information from such analyses, which indicates that Montana has more than 25,000 square miles of high-potential sites and areas.
Specific information for 50 geothermal sites is now available on this site. The site-specific information includes location, physical surface conditions (temperature, flow, etc.), reservoir characteristics, geology and existing uses. The site profiles include site maps and a direct link to digital maps. The maps can be expanded for a broader view, combined with photographic views of detailed areas or used as general area locations. In addition, the website contains a database of physical and chemical data for more than 300 geothermal springs or wells throughout the state. There are also links to additional site information from geothermal evaluations by the Geo-Heat Center, the Geothermal Resources Council, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Montana Bureau of Mines. Future educational activities will be also be posted on this site. General geothermal information is also available for geothermal uses applicable for Montana sites or uses.
Montana has the potential to develop significant new sources of geothermal energy. Increasing the domestic sources of clean energy is one of the most critical problems facing our nation, according to policymakers. The National Energy Policy encourages development of clean and diverse sources of energy. Geothermal energy can help supply clean, naturally occurring sources of both electrical energy and direct-heat substitutes. This website and the geothermal database are first steps toward developing these resources.
Geothermal energy is the thermal energy that often rises naturally to the Earth's surface in the form of hot springs, geysers and volcanoes. Geothermal systems are located in areas where the Earth's crust is relatively thin, where volcanic activity brings magma close to the surface and in tectonically active areas. Most geothermal systems are formed above deep-fault or fracture zones that provide pathways for the groundwater to circulate up to the surface and to percolate back down again.
Geothermal resources have been used for direct heating for thousands of years and for electrical power generation during the last 100 years. Direct use of hot water is the most common application of geothermal energy, in which hot groundwater is simply piped in to heat buildings, floors, greenhouses, pools or preheat circuits. Now many buildings are using geothermal energy to drive heat pumps for either heating or cooling applications. Power generation is normally based on using geothermal steam or hot water to drive steam turbines to create electricity. The first US geothermal power plant, opened at The Geysers in California in 1960, continues to operate successfully. The United States, as the world's largest producer of geothermal electricity, generates an average of 15 billion kilowatt hours of power per year, comparable to burning close to 25 million barrels of oil or 6 million short tons of coal per year. The USGS estimates that more than 22,000 megawatts of electric power could be generated from known geothermal resources in the western United States. There are approximately 8,000 peak electrical megawatts hour (MWh) and 4,000 direct-use thermal megawatts of geothermal capacity installed worldwide today. The US accounts for 2,800 MW of electrical capacity and approximately 600 MW of thermal capacity. US geothermal electrical capacity is enough to supply about 2.8 million average US homes. Utilizing the full US thermal capacity would save the equivalent of 4 million barrels of oil per year.
Geothermal energy is a clean, renewable, reliable and economic source of heat and energy. Direct use of geothermal energy can provide savings of as much as 80 percent in traditional fuel costs. The heat exchange is constant, as long as the rate of extraction does not exceed reservoir recharge. Direct-use systems may require a capital investments, but they have consistently lower operating costs. Geothermal power is also a baseload generating opportunity. It has a a higher capacity factor — a measure of the amount of real time during which a facility is used — than many other power sources. Geothermal resources are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While the carrier medium (water) must be properly managed, the source of geothermal energy, the Earth's heat, will be available indefinitely. Properly engineered injection wells can effectively return water into the geothermal heating cycle, thus replacing the resource and alleviating problems with disposal. Other water sources, such as reclaimed wastewater, are used in densely populated areas (central California) to combine resource recycling with environmentally beneficially disposal. District heating systems and large-volume direct users often develop similar systems.