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ALMOST $80 million will be spent on the hunt for hot rocks in Victoria as the clean energy debate gathers momentum.

The State Government yesterday offered geothermal exploration permits to six companies, giving them scope to explore about 80,000sq km of southern Victoria for high-temperature groundwater and hot rocks.

The first well to test for geothermal potential is already being drilled in the Latrobe Valley. It will be one of the deepest onshore wells ever drilled in the Gippsland Basin, with a target of 2200 metres.

More attention is being paid to the potential of hot rocks for energy generation because of concern about the effect of greenhouse gases on the environment.

Water pumped into the rocks, found kilometres below the earth’s surface, can be super-heated to create steam for energy generation - with no greenhouse gas emissions.

Geodynamics has one of the most advanced geothermal projects in Australia. It has found hot rocks up to 4km below the earth’s surface in the Cooper Basin and aims to deliver power to the grid by 2010 via a 40MW power station.

About 7000MW of geothermal power is produced across the globe. Australian-listed gold producer Lihir Gold uses geothermal energy to power its mine in Papua New Guinea.

Permits bordering Port Philip Bay and encompassing Melbourne and its suburbs were the most hotly contested in Victoria.

Sydney-based Granite Power won the permit covering Melbourne’s eastern suburbs and parts of the Latrobe Valley and will likely target rocks below black coal deposits inland.

The company, which recently won a Federal Government grant to test a new technology for geothermal power generation, is planning to launch a $60 million initial public offering soon and could list by June.

It is finalising the design of a 10MW relocatable power station that could see it begin trials quickly if its exploration efforts are successful.
The permit to Melbourne’s west was won by oil and gas junior Karoon Gas, which has declined the offer “due to a reassessment of current activities”.

The permit is set to be awarded to another bidder within a fortnight.

Others successful in gaining exploration rights were Greenearth Energy, Geogen Victoria, Hot Rock Ltd and ASX-listed Torrens Energy.

Greenearth Energy is a joint venture between Lakes Oil and Victoria Petroleum (VPE is in my portfolio) and will list on the ASX later this year.

Lakes Oil chairman Rob Annells said his company had already begun drilling a well in Greenearth’s permit area, which covers the entire Gippsland Basin, and would spend extra to gather geothermal data.

The six companies are expected to drill about 20 wells over the next five years.

Energy and resources minister Peter Batchelor said yesterday it was vital to explore all means of producing electricity in a more sustainable way but reiterated the Victorian government’s opposition to nuclear power.

-Nice to know.

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