VALE — A local geothermal plant near Vale is generating more electricity than projected.

U.S. Geothermal’s Neal Hot Springs plant is delivering a combined 28 net megawatts, which is enough power for some 25,000 to 28,000 homes, according to Saf Dhillon, of U.S. Geothermal, which is selling the power to Idaho Power Company.

Originally, company officials had set a target of 22 to 23 megawatts.

Neal Hot Springs is located west of Vale, upstream from Bully Creek Reservoir. U.S. Geothermal, headquartered in Boise, is operating projects at Raft River, Idaho, and San Emidio, Nev.

While the project has reached commercial operation, Dhillon said it is still in the final completion phase, which includes various punch list and final work items to be done by the contractor. There will also be further adjustments and refinements to optimize the output and controls of the plant.

The project initially employed a workforce of several hundred people during construction and will provide some 20 people with long-term employment, Dhillon said.

The development is also providing long-term tax payments to Malheur County and is having a positive impact on the local economy with the purchase of local materials and supplies, Dhillon said.

Operating at full capacity, the plant’s three modules are expected to generate 165,000 to 185,000 megawatt-hours per year, according to a company news release. Idaho Power is purchasing the electricity at a rate of $99 per megawatt for 2013.

In comments to the Malheur County Court as the project was being developed, Doug Glaspey, U.S. Geothermal chief operating officer, estimated there is a potential for generation of 30,000 megawatts of power from geothermal sources in the western United States.

U.S. Geothermal’s system pumps water out of the ground at a temperature of about 300 degrees, removes what heat is needed for power generation and injects the water back into the ground, at a temperature of 140 to 150 degrees to be reheated.

The company does not plan any further development at the Neal Springs site at this time, Dhillon said.

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