Geothermal system at Brown Ranch could cost twice as much up front, but might save residents big bucks over time |

Geothermal system at Brown Ranch could cost twice as much up front, but might save residents big bucks over time

Consultant found the 30-year costs of other options each exceeded $500M, while geothermal came in at $328M

The Brown Ranch will feature four neighborhoods, each with a mix of housing options ranging from single-family homes to large-scale apartment complexes.
Yampa Valley Housing Authority/Courtesy photo

While a geothermal system would have roughly double the installation cost for the Yampa Valley Housing Authority’s Brown Ranch development than other options, it could save future residents as much as $195 million over 30 years.

Based on an analysis from the engineering firm Page Consultants, a community-wide geothermal system would cost nearly $48 million to install at Brown Ranch, compared to $24 million for an all-electric, air source heat pump system.

But when including maintenance, energy costs and anticipated equipment replacements in addition to its installation, the electric air source heat pump system would cost about $524 million over the first 30 years of the development. At the same time, the community geothermal, or ground source heat pump system, would cost about $328 million over the same time period, a difference of about $195 million in today’s dollars.

Page also studied a baseline electric system with a natural gas backup, which would cost about $32 million to install and $508 million over 30 years.

“The significant amount of energy savings and electricity utility savings from the (geothermal system) over the lifecycle of the project ends up saving enough money that the relative high initial investment cost is diluted,” said Jimmy Principle, an analytic engineer with Page, during a presentation to the housing authority board on Thursday, Jan. 12.

The housing authority board did not make a decision on which system to go with on Thursday, but the energy needed in each scenario — including an added 18 megawatts anticipated for electric vehicle chargers — was either below or just above an important 40-megawatt threshold.

This threshold determines what type of transformer Yampa Valley Electric Association needs to beef up the local electric grid. Part of the haste with this decision is that transformers have a lead-time of roughly three years right now because of supply chain issues, which could potentially delay the timeline for the first units at Brown Ranch to come on line.

Mike Beyer, a former housing authority board member and program specialist for YVEA, said that based on what he saw from Page’s presentation, the co-op probably wouldn’t change which size transformer it would purchase under any of the scenarios.

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Needing to buy a transformer that would accommodate energy usage well above the 40-megawatt threshold could have added about $25 million to the transformer’s price tag alone.

Even though the electric, air source heat pump system topped out around 42 megawatts, Principle said the anticipated mix of electric vehicle chargers at the Brown Ranch could be reworked to lower that figure. Also, homes will likely get more efficient over the development’s 25-year buildout, as basic building codes are updated, potentially reducing peak energy needs as well.

“If (the electric, air source option) said 60 megawatts, I’d be worried,” Principle said. “Because you’re only a couple of megawatts over, the program for the EVs could be adjusted to get you where you need to be.”

Based on the anticipated energy savings over 30 years compared to the upfront costs, Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan, who sits on the YVHA board, said that picking the geothermal option is almost a no-brainer.

Another potential boon for the geothermal system stems from the federal government offering incentives for these types of systems, which could significantly help with the initial expenses, Page’s review found.

Page’s initial reviews of the Brown Ranch showed that the area would lend itself well to a geothermal system, with the ground near Slate Creek measuring close to 75 degrees, according to Greg Tinkler, principle-in-charge for Page.

Principle added that maintenance on the geothermal system is largely limited to what is above ground, as the buried aspects of the system have a 100-year lifespan. The pipes are flexible, which limits the potential damage an event like an earthquake could have, he said.

The geothermal system can also be installed in phases, which is how the housing authority plans to build 2,300 units planned over 25 years.

While a ground source system uses water to transfer heat, Principle said it is a closed loop system, meaning it wouldn’t be susceptible to drought conditions.

“However we move heat around, the water is just how we move the heat,” Principle said.

Housing authority board President Leah Wood, who was appointed to that role on Thursday after previously serving as vice president, said they would likely need to call a special board meeting to make the final decision on which system to choose.

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