Geothermal workshop explores energy potential, project paybacks |

Geothermal workshop explores energy potential, project paybacks

Former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, now director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, served as moderator at the Yampa Valley Geothermal Workshop for stakeholders and for the public on May 17 at Library Hall in Steamboat Springs.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The Yampa Valley Geothermal Workshop, moderated by former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, focused on educating participants about geothermal energy potential, possible financial incentives and payback on projects.

With an audience ranging from housing and commercial project developers to Steamboat Springs City Council members, presenters at last week’s event addressed three questions: Does geothermal work? Is geothermal cost-effective? Can Routt County develop geothermal and protect natural hot springs?

Yes was the answer to all three questions, according to the workshop speakers.

Organizers from the nonprofit Yampa Valley Sustainability Council set the stage by explaining how the Routt County Climate Action Plan provides local impetus for transitioning from a fossil fuel-based economy to a clean-energy economy.

YVSC Executive Director Michelle Stewart called Ritter the “ringleader” for the state’s clean energy economy from his time as the 41st governor of Colorado from 2007 to 2011. Ritter is director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, which he founded in 2011.

“Geothermal makes the most sense to think about the power sector or the built environment getting to zero carbon,” Ritter said during a May 17 evening presentation for the general public.

Workshop presenters noted examples of successful geothermal heating and cooling systems across Colorado, from the state Capitol and the governor’s mansion to 16 buildings at Colorado Mesa University or the Glas Deffryn Ranch in southern Routt County.

During an afternoon session for stakeholders, Yampa Valley Community Foundation board vice chair Kelly Landers presented a case study explaining why the foundation chose to install ground-source heat pumps in its new 3,500-square-foot office building on Oak Street in Steamboat. Landers said the foundation wanted to be a community leader in best practices, and the ground-source heat pumps provide both heating and cooling with lower maintenance costs, less moving parts and no outside cooling condenser.

Recent Colorado legislation authorized up to $3,000 in a state tax credit for ground-source heat pump installations in 2024 and 2025.
Colorado Energy Office/Presentation slide

“(The building contractor) Ken Kruse said, ‘You have to do geothermal; it’s the way of the future,'” Landers said.

Including a 30% federal tax credit available through the Inflation Reduction Act, installation of the foundation’s system will save $8,000 annually compared to natural gas, Landers said.

“It will be paid off in 10.3 years, and then we’ll definitely be reaping all the benefits,” Landers said.

Workshop energy experts said geothermal will be a key part of reaching the last 10% to 20% of zero carbon pollution emission goals in Colorado.

“We believe as well that investing in geothermal is part of what is necessary to answer the question for zero carbon in the power sector from 2030 to 2045,” Ritter said.

Routt County Environmental Health Director Scott Cowman said the basic understanding of geothermal energy is a gap in the community’s plans to lower its carbon footprint, of which a significant portion comes from the heating of buildings. Cowman said developers of a few key buildings in the community did not consider geothermal.

“People need to understand a little better what the potential opportunities are,” Cowman said.

YVSC Energy and Transportation Director Paul Bony said utilizing 24-hour, unlimited geothermal energy from the natural heat of the Earth will help the electric grid transition to clean energy by supplementing solar and wind sources that can be intermittent.

“The policy and science are bringing us to heat pumps,” Bony said. “Ground-source heat pumps are more efficient and have less impact on the electric grid. Ground-source pumps are in the Earth, cost less to operate on an annual basis and could cost less than a gas boiler plus air-conditioning with tax credits.”

Geophysicist Paul Morgan, Ph.D., said he does “heartily endorse” geothermal energy for the Brown Ranch development west of Steamboat. Morgan also noted that the 300-degree Fahrenheit geothermal resources near Strawberry Park Hot Springs could be used to create a localized electricity production district set in a barn-sized building.

“I don’t think we have mapped half of the hot springs in Routt County, so there still is a lot of work to be done here,” Morgan said. “You’ve got great opportunities for heat pumps and possibly some other opportunities for direct uses. I understand you have hot springs that dump into the river. You could be doing a lot more with that hot water, such as for greenhouses or district heating systems.”

Bryce Carter, emerging markets program manager at the Colorado Energy Office, outlined a long list of state and federal tax credit and grant programs that can assist geothermal project explorations and installations. Applications for $12 million in funds through the state’s Geothermal Energy Grant Program will launch in mid-2023.

“The Inflation Reduction Act is huge, and we need to get ahead of it to take advantage of it,” Carter said. “There are huge investment and huge workforce opportunities, all the while decarbonizing the economy.”

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