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Unocal Will Own Geothermal Plant : Firm to Sell Power to Ex-Partner in Venture SoCal Edison

May 18, 1987|DONALD WOUTAT | Times Staff Writer

Unocal will take over a small geothermal pilot plant on the Salton Sea east of San Diego from Southern California Edison and triple its capacity to make it a commercial venture, the companies said. Edison will buy the electricity produced by the plant.

Although Unocal is a major producer of geothermal energy, this will be the first time that it will own and operate a plant that converts the energy into electricity. The company created a subsidiary, Earth Energy, to run the plant.

The Salton Sea plant began operation in 1982 as a research project in which Unocal produced steam from underground reservoirs and Edison turned it into electricity. In part, it was a laboratory for Unocal's technology to limit corrosion caused by the highly saline geothermal fluids in the Imperial Valley.

No money is changing hands in the plant deal, the companies said. But Unocal will pay Edison $11 million for its one-fourth ownership of the underground geothermal resources that supply steam for the plant.

The plant has a capacity of 10 megawatts, which Edison has agreed to buy. Unocal plans to incrementally increase the capacity to 30 megawatts by 1995, which Edison also agreed to buy.

"We wanted to expand it at a time when Edison decided not to move ahead," a Unocal spokeswoman said. Edison said the utility intended the plant as a research project all along.

Unocal is part owner with Chevron of a second geothermal field in the area, which supplies two other geothermal electric generating plants. Unocal says its geothermal reserves in the Philippines, Indonesia and various California sites, notably the Geysers in the northern part of the state, are equivalent to more than 300 million barrels of oil.

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