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.

Alternative Energy Sources: Wave Power

The oceans are a huge repository of the sun’s energy. There are at least three ways to recover this energy. This article looks at one – wave power.

Among many indicators of global warming is the fact that the amount of heat stored in the oceans is increasing. So it makes sense to use that heat to provide for mankind’s energy needs. The US Navy is among those developing ways of doing so. The other sources of energy from the sea are tidal power and wave power.

When the worldwide price of crude oil rocketed following the Middle East crisis of the early 1970’s and the subsequent formation of OPEC to control supplies there was an upsurge of interest in alternatives and ways of harnessing the power of the waves received significant volumes of government investment in the UK and elsewhere. Probably the best known of the devices that were developed during this period is the Salter Duck.

Europe’s Marine Energy Development Centred on Scotland

Further government funding was denied to this device in the 1980s when fears about future trends in crude oil prices had subsided. Professor Salter’s facility at the University of Edinburg remains in business however and continues to play a significant role in the testing and development of wave power devices.

Indeed, a significant proportion of the world’s wave power development is centred on Scotland, with the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) based at Stromness providing facilities for full scale testing of wave and tidal power devices in some of the most adverse conditions likely to be encountered anywhere in the world.

EMEC plays a leading role in assisting developers by creating standards and ensuring that environmental impacts are properly assessed as part of the design process. Devices currently or soon to be deployed at EMEC’s wave power testing facility include Pelamis 1 and 2, Oyster and Penguin.

Off-shore Energy on Ireland’s West Coast

Meanwhile Ocean Energy Limited (OE) of Cobh in County Cork, Ireland have developed a device which has been tested in Atlantic gales and, since February 2010, have been in partnership with US multinational Dresser-Rand Corporation. In addition their platform is being used in Galway Bay by Europe’s Hydraulics and Maritime Research Centre (HMRC) as a testbed for peripheral devices such as control systems, telemetry and grid interface technology. All of these technologies are essential requirements for the efficient transfer of wave generated electricity into a nation’s power grid.

Elsewhere, Ocean Power Technologies (OPT) have deployed devices at test sites in Hawaii, Atlantic City and Spain as well as at the EMEC test site in Orkney. OPT also intend to deploy an array of their devices at Wave Hub off the Cornish coast. This is a similar facility to the one operated by EMEC. OPT are developing “wave parks” at Reedsport and Coos Bay, Oregon.

Need to Lower Total Cost of Wave Energy

Critics of the current state of wave power development believe that there is a basic mistake being made in concentrating on areas where there are frequent high waves. In addition to the difficulty of designing equipment capable of surviving in such harsh conditions, such locations are often far from major centres of industry and population.

One such critic is Cliff Goudey, whose own wave energy company won an entrepreneurship competition in November 2010. In January 2011 he stated in a comment on the Renewable Energy World website, that developers need to “recognize that Kw/$ is what matters.” Generating a lot of power, most of which is lost in transmission, can be seen as wasteful. Accepting that lower outputs of energy at source makes sense if the cost of the equipment required to do so can be kept down and the transmission losses reduced because of the relative proximity of the generating devices to the point of use.

Solar Power for the Roofless: Off-site Solutions

Innovative Programs Offer Greater Accessibility To Clean Renewables

Novel models can overcome common solar qualification obstacles. There is hope for those with shade trees, divided roofs, poor roof pitch, orientation, or no roof at all.

Eighty five percent of Americans polled would rather have clean, renewable energy (Efrid, 2009). However, after nearly three decades of tax credits and rebates, only seven percent of the nation’s usage is clean, renewable energy; only one percent of the nation’s usage is solar (E.I.A., 2009).

Innovative solutions increasing accessibility to solar power have emerged. Among these and discussed this article are: Solar Shares, Solar Community Gardens, Forced Air Window Sill Solar Space Heaters, and Community Choice Aggregates.

Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) Solar Shares

Per the SMUD.org website SolarShares is a program that is the first of its kind begun by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), in Northern California. It is the largest in the nation serving between 800 and 1,000 customers that have purchased shares of its 1MW solar farm.

As the solar farm generates electricity, that amount of Kwh produced will pay out as a credit on the customer’s bill. The size of the credit will be deducted from a flat monthly upfront fee that is agreed upon during the signing of the agreement.

The program is best appreciated during Sacramento’s long hot summers. There are more customers than there are available shares, and so SMUD is expanding the program to accommodate demand.

Solar Community Gardens

Colorado State Representative Claire Levy (D-Boulder), has introduced HR 1342 that would create solar community gardens. Residents would buy into the off-site solar gardens like shareholders, and receive a portion of the energy produced.

Laura Snider (January, 18, 2010) of the Dailycamera interviewed Levy. “The intent of (the bill) is so people can have the benefit of what they would get if they had solar panels on their rooftops,” Levy said. “It’s for people who are renters, who live in condominium projects and don’t have rooftops, people whose lots are shaded, people whose houses aren’t the right orientation — a whole variety of things.”

Joy Hughes writes in a note posted on the Facebook page Solar Gardens “Solargardens.org has been organizing in counties around Colorado. Potential sites include a public library, a food co-op, a farm, a ranch, a church, an office building, and a land-based community energy group. Each of these community institutions could benefit financially from hosting solar panels.”

Forced Air Window Sill Solar Space Heater

Kevin Campbell tells Suite 101 that his first Window Sill Solar Space Heater was “just a cardboard box with tin foil, and some saran wrap with a computer fan.” That was many units ago. The Window Sill Solar Heater will fit comfortably into a window frame and heat a 600 square foot space he says. The panel collects heat from the sun. An automatic fan will turn on and off as is needed per the thermostat inside the panel.

Typically persons are discouraged from going solar with a lack of desired southern exposure. However, Kevin’s customers have told him they have been able to put the unit into an eastern facing window and migrate it to a western window in the afternoon, to track the winter sun. Customers buy the heaters for their cabins, houses, and businesses. Kevin thinks architects ought to make it a standard practice to design windows and homes to capture the heat of the sun.

During a sunny winter with little cloud cover, the unit has saved up to 30% on winter heating bills. As the standard heat he sells is roughly only $300.00, the cost is easily recovered within the year.

Community Choice Aggregates

Community Choice Aggregates (CCAs) are to energy reform what the public option is to health care. Cities form the equivalent of a buyer’s cooperative by purchasing bulk energy on the market to build local green-power facilities. That electricity is then re-sold to local residents and businesses using the distribution system built by the city’s current private electric service provider, PG&E.

Dan Walters (2010), reporter for the Sacramento Bee writes “Nearly a century later, PG&E is still resisting efforts to create publicly owned utilities.” The provider has recently collected enough signatures from paid gatherers to qualify as an initiative termed Proposition 16 New Two-Thirds Vote Requirement for Local Public Electricity Providers. Initiative Constitutional Amendment. Walters writes this will cost PG&E at least 25 million dollars to persuade voters to adopt the constitutional amendment.