Koroit geothermal permit renewed

A FLEDGLING geothermal project in Koroit has been thrown a five-year lifeline by the state government after doubts over its future. 

Developer Hot Rock Limited (HRL) is hoping to drum up investor support with a renewed permit to tap into the region’s vast underground reservoir of super-heated water. 

But plans to drill still appear to be a pipe dream, according to a company statement to the Australian Stock Exchange on Friday. 

Drilling won’t happen until at least 2017, a year before the exploration permit expires. 

Executives have also taken a pay cut, while equipment for the Koroit project will be sold off. 

HRL chairman Dr Mark Elliott said the town could become a renewable energy powerhouse. 

He said Koroit was still the best asset in the Otway Basin geological region, which covers western Victoria and parts of South Australia. “We’re in talks with a group to see if they are interested in coming on board for the Otway Basin projects,” Dr Elliott said. 

Greenhouses used to grow vegetables and flowers are one of the touted spin-off industries if the project gains ground. 

But the company is yet to raise any of the $30 million needed to drill two test wells. 

“There hasn’t been any raised yet, but we’re doing more preliminary work to make a more robust case,” Dr Elliott said. 

“We’re going to make a stronger case than we did before.” 

He said a fully functioning plant could cost about $140 million. 

In order to get investors on side, HRL needs to prove that the water, which can heat to 150 degrees, can be pumped through the rocks to the surface. Once on the surface, the water would run through pipes heating another substance called isobutane, which has a lower boiling point than water. 

“It’s an organic fluid that you can flash over the turbine to make it generate power,” Dr Elliott said.

A consortium called NICTA is undertaking the research and is expected to hand over its findings to HRL this year.

Figures on price and power have varied since the proposal first appeared in 2007. HRL had hoped to be operating a pilot site by 2013. 

Each well could produce four to five megawatts of power. 

“You’ve got to have pretty deep pockets,” Dr Elliott said. 

In 2011 HRL was given $7 million in Commonwealth cash for the project, but the funds were later withdrawn after the project stalled. 

Dr Elliott said the company would make a fresh application to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. 

s.mccomish@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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