Idaho has a rich history of geothermal use beginning with Native Americans who congregated at hot springs as indicated by artifacts and petroglyphs on nearby rocks. Hot springs were also used by settlers, miners and trappers by the mid 1800's. In 1892, the nation's first district heating system was birthed in Boise (Figure 1). The system is still in use and has been joined by three more district heating systems in the Boise area.
Figure 1. The Natatorium was a landmark in Boise that used geothermal water for recreation for over 40 years. The Natatorium was part of the Warm Springs Water District which has been in operation since 1892. Photo credit: Idaho State Historical Society (73-2.52)
At least 10 geothermal resorts and spas have been around in Idaho since the late 1800's and early 1900's. In 1930, Edward's Greenhouses became the first commercial greenhouse operation in the United States to use geothermal water to grow plants. Several other geothermal greenhouse businesses emerged in southern Idaho over the next 50 years.
In 1973, Leo Ray became the first person to use geothermal water to raise catfish in Idaho. Currently, 12 aquaculture businesses are operating in Idaho raising tilapia, catfish, sturgeon, ornamental fish, alligators and marine reefs with geothermal water.
In the 1970's, the nation's first energy crisis stimulated the development of five district heating systems in Boise and Twin Falls, and a geothermal power plant pilot project in the Raft River area. In the 1980's, heavy pumpage led to declining water levels in some places, which prompted the Idaho Department of Water Resources to restrict additional geothermal developments in Ada and Twin Falls Counties. Idaho's geothermal development slowed in the 1990's, except for some home heating projects in Boise and Owyhee Counties.
In the early 2000's, geothermal activity in Idaho started picking up. An agreement between several geothermal users in Ada County allowed the City of Boise to expand its customer base. U.S. Geothermal, Inc., purchased the Raft River site, completed development for a new power plant and began generating electricity in 2008. The BLM auctioned five parcels (8,904 acres) in Idaho for geothermal power exploration in July 2007; the total paid for the lease bonuses was $5.7 million.
Geothermal development is a slow, tedious and expensive process. But, since Idaho has proven resources capable of power and direct use applications, there are plans, dreams and hopes that additional utilization of geothermal will occur in the state in the near future.
For more history on geothermal energy in Idaho, please CLICK below.
- A Detailed Geothermal History (742B PDF)