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Benjamin Holt Jr., 89; Pioneer in Geothermal Power

September 11, 2003|From a Times Staff Writer

Benjamin Holt Jr., an engineer who helped pioneer the use of geothermal power in California, has died. He was 89.

Holt died Aug. 22 of heart failure at his home in South Pasadena.

In 1961, Holt founded the Ben Holt Co. and spent much of that decade designing oil refineries in California.

In the early 1970s, however, Holt started trying to develop geothermal energy -- power obtained by using heat from the Earth's interior.

Colleagues said he built and was responsible for several advances in geothermal plant design.

Among those advances were processes to clean geothermal steam.

In the 1980s, Holt's firm designed and built one of the nation's first binary geothermal plants, at Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

The firm later built plants in Nevada, Utah and Texas, and did extensive work in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Holt sold his 30-person firm to CalEnergy, an electricity generating company, in 1993.

It was subsequently sold to Peter Kiewit Sons Inc., which merged its operations with Bibb & Associates some years later.

Holt remained on the board of directors until his retirement in 1998.

Born in Caldwell, Idaho, Holt graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor's degree in chemistry.

He went on to earn a master's degree in chemical engineering from MIT.

Active throughout his life, Holt was an avid tennis player who also hiked in Nepal and visited Antarctica.

He is survived by his wife, Virginia Keim Holt; a son, Benjamin Holt III of Altadena; two daughters, Rebecca Palmer of Los Altos, Calif., and Sara Holt Albert of Paris; and five grandchildren.

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