This is what geothermal power looks like

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Steam from geothermal pools mingles with morning mist over the forest

Though we’ve left Kerosene Creek, we’re still in the island’s hotspot as we drive south along the 5 Highway, and the peridot-green forests beside the road are thick with rising geothermal steam. Everything is damp this morning. We’re damp and smell like sulfur after taking a morning bath in Kerosene Creek. Our towels and clothes are damp from the steam of the creek and morning mist. The car is damp from morning mist and intermittent rain. It looks like it’s going to be gray all day.

Stoytcho is driving, so I’m the first to notice the imposing shadow of the cooling tower along the horizon. My first thought is to associate the tower with nuclear power and ask myself “What’s a nuclear power station doing out here?” Stoytcho hands me the phone and through some Google work, we find out that it’s not a nuclear power station but a geothermal one, harnessing the boiling energy of the hotspot. It also appears to have a gift shop.

“Wait, what?” Stoytcho says.

“Yeah, it says it has a gift shop,” I repeat.

“So we can go visit it?”

“I have no idea. We can try.”

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Ohaaki Geothermal Station up close

We turn off the highway into the road leading up to the station, a gravel stretch flanked by fields of swaying grass. At the entrance, we look for some kind of sign directing us to a gift shop, but only find visitor parking. We park and get out of the car to look around, but the entire area is fenced off with chain-link and barbed wire. It doesn’t look like there’s a gift shop anywhere, so we walk to the front gate to find an intercom and this sign:

“TOURS: PRESS BUTTON FOR ENTRY. TOURS FOR CLASSES OR GROUPS ONLY. NO PRIVATE TOURS.”

Well darn, it looks like we won’t be getting a tour or a chance to visit the station’s gift shop, so no geothermal-themed keychains for anyone back home.  Then we notice an asphalt path off to the left titled “VISITOR WALK”. Hey, we’re visitors and we’re here. Might as well do that.

The asphalt path leads out to an observation area overlooking the station’s external pipes, where steam rises from everything. The pipes carry hot steam and boiling water from the hotspot below into the station, where (I would guess) the water/steam is used to heat a closed loop of pure water (so they don’t have to worry about impurities in the geothermal water), turning that into steam which is used to turn turbines and generate electricity. The cooling tower above is there to cool that water down again, condensing it for reuse in the system.

 

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Pipes carrying geothermal fluids (steam and water) from underground into the station
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Artificial natural patterns: something, whether moisture, light, or temperature, causes the lichen on the walkway to grow only outside the “shadows” of the walkway’s southern bars.

There’s not much else to explore beyond the visitor path, and in half an hour we’re back on the main highway. As we drive past the cooling tower, we stop for a photo of this giant, resting in the fields beneath a low sky. Its form dominates the landscape, a testament to our power in harnessing the energy of the Earth.

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The giant cooling tower of the station dominates the horizon and disappears into the clouds.

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