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(September 21–25, 2005)

Florian Bertzbach

42,195 km

Landis Bennett

Big Geysers (Calpine 13) Geothermal Power Plant

The Geysers, Lake and Sonoma Counties, California, USA

09:32 PDT, 21 September 2005

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© 2005 Landis Bennett, All Rights Reserved.

The Geysers is the largest complex of geothermal generating plants in the world. Located about 100 miles north of San Francisco in the Mayacma mountains of California's coastal range, The Geysers steam clouds can often be seen from miles away. Consisting of 21 generating plants, the combined power of The Geysers complex is around 1,000 megawatts (MW) or enough to power approximately 1,000,000 homes.

The natural and historic geothermal activity of the area, steam escaping from cracks in the ground, is more correctly referred to as fumaroles. When the first white settlers found them and developed the area as a tourist attraction, the name Geysers was much more appealing.

The first attempt at generating power from the steam came in 1922. But cheaper forms of power generation were available from hydroelectric, coal, and petroleum derivatives and the project was abandoned. Over time the site was developed by a number of companies including Magma Power Company and Thermal Power Company. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) built it's first 11 MW generating plant and it went into commercial operation on 25 September 1960.

In 1980, PG&E built the Big Geysers power plant and with a capacity of 133 MW it became the world's largest geothermal unit. In 1989 the generating capacity of The Geysers peaked at about 2,000 MW. Over time the steam field has diminished in capacity. A way of keeping the steam field viable is to pump water down into the field where it heats up and comes back out as steam to turn the turbines. The water that is pumped into the ground is provided by the waste water treatment facilities in Santa Rosa, Clearlake, and Middletown.

While many energy companies took an interest in the Geysers, from PG&E to Unocal, Calpine is now the owner and operator of 19 of the 21 units and responsible for about 850 MW of energy. Calpine offers free tours of The Geysers and has a wonderful visitor's center in Middletown.

Special thanks to Sandy Tucker and Lyle La Faver of Calpine for both allowing me to take these photographs and for the personal tour.
More panoramas from my day at The Geysers

360Geographics - Panoramas from all over North America of tourist destinations and places off the beaten path.
Hardware: Nikon D100, Nikkor 10.5mm Lens, Kaidan QuickPan III Spherical
Software: Kekus PanoTools Plug-ins, RealViz Stitcher, Photoshop CS, Enblend, CubicConverter, QT Player Pro, VRPrep
Behind the scene : how this panorama was made
My wife, Kat, and I had planned our wedding for the equinox and planned to head away on honeymoon directly after. But since we've both been around the World Wide Panorama since the beginning and I'm directly involved with producing it, I couldn't just skip an event.

From the time that Don and I discussed Energy as the theme, I knew that I had to go to The Geysers. I had never visited the site personally, but I lived between Middletown and Santa Rosa for years and the steam rising from the The Geysers is visible from just about anywhere in the region, given the right atmospheric conditions. Another thing about The Geysers that made me think of energy is that it is one of the most seismically active regions in all of California with earthquakes of magnitude 2 or 3 (Richter) occurring daily (See the cluster that's always in the top left of this map).

So with a my own wedding happening on Thursday and the event only running from Wednesday to Sunday, I decided that I had to do my photography on Wednesday. I called the visitor's center in Middletown and eventually got in touch with Sandy Tucker. She was extremely helpful and told me to come up early on Wednesday and she'd make sure that I got up there.

On Wednesday morning, Sandy met me at the visitor's center and introduced me to Lyle La Faver who would be my personal guide. He handed me a hardhat and took me to many great vistas overlooking the whole Geyser's project and provided me with quite a bit of information. I ended up taking 4 different panoramas overlooking many different generating plants but finally chose this one without the extensive view. I chose it because it shows the generating plant much more clearly than the others which had great views but the plants appeared very small in the final panorama. The other panoramas I took that day can be viewed here.

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