VALE — Oregon’s first geothermal plant at Neal Hot Springs west of Vale is expected to be generating its first electricity at the end of next week as the first of three power plant modules is started up.

Presenting an update to the Malheur County Court, Wednesday, Scott Nichols, environmental and land manager for U.S. Geothermal, said the company plans to start the first unit July 6, followed by the second unit in late July, and the third will come online in August or September.

Nichols said the three power plant modules will use the hot water — 290 to 300 degrees — which will turn refrigerant into vapor, turn a turbine and run a generator. The power plant is projected to produce an estimated 22-megawatts of net power, which would be enough electricity for 22,000 homes.

“We’re really mining the heat,” Nichols said, commenting that company will be pumping water from 500 to 1,000 feet deep.

It is a closed-loop system, so the refrigerant will be cooled and reused and the water will be injected back into the ground, he said. Crews will be putting in tracers when the water is injected to allow them to see where the water goes and how fast it travels through the underground fractures.

While seismic monitors have been installed, Nichols said there is no expectation of seismic activity. There is not going to be any hydro or chemical fracking, he said, and the company will not be allowed to pressurize the rock. It is still in the process of drilling injection wells, he added.

“It is highly scrutinized,” project,” Nichols said.

The U.S. Department on Energy provided a loan for the project and is watching carefully, he said, and has representatives on site.

Later in the session, the County Court voted to provide the full payment of $15,000 the county contributes to Snake River Transit’s routed system, which is used to match funds from a state grant. The county’s contribution was contingent on the City of Ontario’s contribution.

Lonnie Debban, executive director of the Malheur Council on Aging & Community Services, also announced that Snake River Transit is in the process of completing a contract for advertising on the buses with Malheur Federal Credit Union for three years at $30,000 a year. The money will be divided for $15,000 each between MCOACS and Treasure Valley Transit, which co-sponsors the SRT. The contracts are still being finalized, Debban said.

Debban said $10,000 of the $15,000 going to MCOACS will be used to make up the $10,000 shortfall created when the Ontario City Council opted to fund SRT for $20,000 rather than $30,000. The rest of the $15,000 will go as matching funds for the nine benches and two shelters to be installed at selected bus stops around Ontario.

One of the shelters will be in front of the MCOACS office, which is now the Greyhound Bus Depot for Ontario, as of Friday. It is also the depot for the Eastern Point Bus, which travels between Ontario and Bend.

People will be able to buy tickets for either service during MCOACS office hours.

Having approached the City of Vale for a contribution to the Vale/Nyssa commuter route, Debban said the Vale Council was amiable to the request and, although there was no money currently budgeted, council members indicated they were committed to seeing if there was money available. She said she will also be approaching the City of Nyssa.

Larry Meyer is a reporter for the Argus Observer.

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