Going Green with Geothermal

One small community battles the current economy to implement abundant geothermal resources in a one-of-a-kind greenhouse.

A Gardening Dream

The desire is obvious. “Going green” is catchy, and for many, the ideal way to fashion one’s life. People pride efforts when the sun is harvested with solar panels, when wind farms capture the wind’s energy, and applaud new approaches to fuel vehicles and industries working off renewable methods. The dilemma many encounter is the initial cost of the green technology. Yes, the renewable energy may eventually save money, but with the economy in recession, getting by the next month has interrupted future investments. The Geothermal Greenhouse Project is the grassroots effort of local citizens attempting to overcome the troubling economy in order to fulfill a dream, a hope of a greenhouse, powered by geothermal heat.

With dwindling construction jobs and scant real estate sales, Pagosa Springs, a town nestled in the San Juan Mountains in Southwest Colorado, has been as hard hit as like the rest of the nation. An abundance of mountain views offer seasonal tourism which, fortuitously, generated increased revenue for the past few years amongst the heart of the recession. Unfortunately, tourism is unable to recreate the profits from the industries of construction and real estate. The response, by a town of just over 3 thousand residents and only 13 thousand Archuleta County citizens, is a geothermal greenhouse.

The assortment of minerals—sodium, potassium, magnesium, iron, and sulfate (the cause for the unique smell) has coined the geothermal water as “healing waters.” These mineral springs have lured Native Americans like the Utes and other Southwestern tribes. Settlers also rested in the pools near the San Juan River. In the 1970’s, the use of the geothermal water as heat began to be a substitute for the increasing energy costs during that time. Investment in the geothermal water heats downtown businesses, public schools, government buildings, and some homes today. The heat is being proposed for the geothermal greenhouse.

Growing a Mountain Town

Mountain communities are not known for an extended growing period. The geothermal greenhouse is perceived as an ideal use of green energy to provide fruits and vegetables year-round.

The Geothermal Greenhouse Project representatives presented the latest findings at a public meeting on June 7. Kathy Keyes, a local business owner and a member of the grassroots Geothermal Greenhouse Project, explained, “This project will help the economy overall by utilizing our intrinsic resources, showing we can grab our own bootstraps while educating local children.

Three geodesic domes are proposed for the estimated $1.4 million project. One dome is planned to be for community gardeners. Another dome is to be a learning tool for local schools, reminding the students of the agricultural roots of the community. The third dome is idealized as a commercial dome, a way of branding Pagosa Springs products around the nation, even around the globe. Solar power is intended to provide lighting during the darker days of the Rocky Mountain winters.

Support by the Town of Pagosa Springs has been witnessed through a loan of land for $10 a year as well as 100 gallons per minute of the geothermal water effluent(heat) after it has gone through the local system, heating downtown communities. In-kind community donations continue to mount up as well. However community support has only gotten the project so far. Cash is needed. Financing green projects is no easy feat. Financing a green project in a recession is an even more formidable challenge.

Finding the Green

A request to Colorado Senator Michael Bennett as well as Congressman John Salazar for $1.2 million for federal appropriations stimulus monies is pending. The project is currently one of thirteen remaining projects out of 150 still being considered for the federal stimulus appropriations. Applications to the Colorado Governor Energy office as well as numerous granting agencies have also been requested.

Residents enjoy their open spaces. The construction of domes on a downtown park is not viewed favorably by all citizens in the community. One concern voiced at the meeting by residents is that the domes will be an unsightly invasion of public space on the donated Town of Pagosa Springs property, known to locals as Centennial Park. Michael Whiting, a member of the Geothermal Greenhouse Project, stated that landscaping outside the domes might be tended to by the local gardening club, and the trail, traversing through Centennial Park, would be repaired and would meander in the gardens surrounding the domes.

Whiting recognized that the two years plus of project planning already past appeared to be excruciatingly slow progress. He insisted the planning for the greenhouse needed to be as frugal with finances as possible, keeping in mind the necessity for the project to be as efficient as possible with all its resources.

The geothermal water has enticed many to soak in the “healing waters”. The citizens of Pagosa Springs hope the waters also heal the economy, by attracting travelers to soak in the green energy of a geothermal greenhouse.