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Are Washington's volcanoes the next big energy source?

caption: File photo: Mount Baker
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File photo: Mount Baker
KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

Washington's volcanoes could one day join solar and wind as producers of renewable energy. The state Department of Natural Resources plans to tap into the idea this summer.

Geologists think there could be pockets of geothermal resources throughout Washington state, but there's no clear data showing where. The state’s Department of Natural Resources wants to check for hot spots under the state's major volcanoes.

DNR spokesperson Joe Smillie said this will be the first time the state has searched far below the volcanoes. They're getting ready to take action after the legislature passed a bill last year allowing deeper drilling for geothermal resources.

"We'll be drilling some test wells this summer by Baker Lake, which is near Mount Baker, and about 15 miles northwest of Mount St. Helens," Smilie said.

If their search is successful, utilities could eventually apply to build geothermal power plants in the area.

"We're hoping that if we go deep enough, we'll find water and steam that's been heated by the magma, that's well under the volcanoes," he said.

The public will have an opportunity to give feedback in each county where there's a proposed test well. In preparation some environmental groups have called for stricter river and forest protections near the potential geothermal sites.

Smillie said the work will not damage Mount Baker or Mount St. Helens.

California produces energy from a large geothermal plant north of San Francisco, and multiple countries also use the technology including Iceland, New Zealand and Italy.

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