Non-Technical Barriers to Geothermal Development in California and Nevada

Aaron Levine, Ligia Smith, Jody Robins, Erik Witter, Caity Smith, Clare Haffner

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Geothermal project development in the United States may be subject to numerous permits, authorizations, and other regulatory requirements at the federal, state, and local level, which are necessary to address potential environmental and resource impacts at geothermal project sites. This report presents the findings of our study, including an analysis of federal, state, and local geothermal regulatory and permitting processes, case studies analyzing site-specific attributes that may impact project development at four selected geothermal project sites, an analysis of cost and timeline implications for geothermal project development, and the results of a qualitative study focused on inter-agency coordination and collaboration efforts between federal, state, and/or local agencies for geothermal projects located in California and Nevada. Our analysis found that development timelines may be impacted by multiple federal and state environmental review processes and duplicative permitting requirements as well as coordination efforts between numerous federal, state, and local agencies involved in issuing authorizations and permits necessary for project development. In addition, projects in California and Nevada may face site-specific environmental challenges due to the presence of sensitive resources (e.g., biological species and species habitat, cultural resources) that may result in project construction delays. Our study results also indicate that protracted geothermal development timelines caused by delays in acquiring necessary permits and environmental reviews may result in loss of generated electricity revenue and additional financing costs, which may increase economic uncertainty associated with project development. Through our qualitative analysis, we found that utilization of best practices, including tiering to existing environmental review documents and developing memoranda of understanding, which clearly delineate agency roles and responsibilities may reduce overall project timelines, costs, and uncertainties associated with geothermal project development in California and Nevada.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages84
StatePublished - 2022

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-83133


  • California
  • environmental
  • geothermal
  • Nevada
  • permitting
  • regulation


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