In commercials for "leaning forward" Rachel Maddow stands below the Hoover Dam and tells us that it was not the product of one man, one state, one company ... but of one nation. It expressed a vision that inspired a generation. One dam on the Colorado and scores in the Tennessee & Missouri Valleys created exploding demand for cheap electricity, exploding population and an expanding economy.
But with no more rivers to dam, we turned increasingly to the burning of coal and petrofuels to boil water for generation of electricity. This in turn has led to ever more expensive and dwindling commodities, a sacked Earth, economic inequality and perpetual war over exotic resources to fuel our addiction to oil. And, though "pollution free", hydro has its own long-term and local limitations on environmentally friendly development.
Exxon commercials on recent Maddow programs explain that new techniques in hydrofracking will lead us to a "clean energy future" with natural gas! Profitable? Yes—for Exxon. Clean? Absurd!
And later on when the gas is all tapped out? Prof. Christopherson of Cornell in this article* describes the inevitable boom/bust cycle embedded in the exploitation of limited resources like coal, natural gas and oil. Building refineries and pipelines to handle shale sands and gas may create jobs but will leave another rust belt in their wake. Instead, why not tap a resource that is literally within 10 miles of everywhere on earth ... one that will provide energy -- literally -- for billions of years?
A national program to develop a network of deep geothermal power plants -- sited on existing military bases, airports, prison lands, interstate rights-of-way -- could wean us forever from petroleum, gas, coal and nuclear fission as dead-end, boom-bust and environmentally destructive sources of heat for electrical energy production. And there is nothing more exotic about it than focused engineering, determination and financial investment. Land, turbine technology and electrical distribution systems of current-generation polluters can even be recycled and transformed as deep geothermal sites in the process!
To the left is a conceptual diagram of energy generation options for Cornell University* Notice that electricity and heat are provided for the campus on-site with deep geothermal. The campus grid is also connected to a gas pipeline and the electrical grid. Locations of around 100,000 population could adopt a similar concept, providing residents with steam heat and electricity without the gas!
Like the development of the internet in the '80s, NASA's quest for the moon of the '60s, the interstate highway system of the '50s, the manufacturing dynamo of the '40s or the Hoover Dam of the '30s, such a program would inspire a new knowledge- and skill-based flood of jobs. It would be based on a new vision of the possibilities of an unlimited and constant energy source that can be tapped practically every- and anywhere on earth -- right beneath our feet. There is no magic, no super engineering, but there are huge potential profits. Chevron, ExxonMobil, Halliburton and literally hundreds of American companies know how to tap it; GE knows how to harness and express it; Calpine knows how to manage it; IBM knows how to make it smart. We just have to decide to make it happen.
EGS: Enhanced Geothermal Systems -- along with prudently scaled and localized hydro, solar and wind -- is this generation's opportunity to inspire a new, unified environmental consciousness, dramatic reductions in CO2 and particulate emissions, jobs galore and national, across-the-board economic benefits for centuries.