State seeking to expand development of geothermal resources
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado energy experts are methodically working to explore and encourage development of the state’s geothermal resources, which have the potential to be a significant factor in the quest for sources of clean, renewable energy.
This week, the Colorado Geothermal Working Group will tour Pagosa Springs, where town leaders are pursuing geothermal projects like organic greenhouses and school heating systems. The October 7 tour runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and is open to the public. Visit the geothermal working group website for more details.
Other areas located on geothermal hot spots have even started developing commercial fish-farming operations, said working group coordinator Ben Northcutt.
The Pagosa Springs tour will include stops at local geothermal wells, bubbling hot springs and a district heating system. Pagosa Springs Mayor Mayor Ross Aragon, town manager David Mitchem and county commissioner Michael Whiting, along with other geothermal experts, will also discuss plans for potential geo-power development in the town.
“Geology experts consider Colorado to be hot state, with good potential for energy development, but our challenge is that they’re not proven. It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg thing,” Northcutt said. Pagosa has really embraced this, more than any other hot springs town. They’ve really rolled out the red carpet,” he said.
Developing geothermal power on a significant scale requires some investment to drill wells thousands of feet deep to determine whether there are adequate flows to generate power on a commercial scale, Northcutt explained.
Gethermal is desirable as an energy source for several reasons, including the fact that it’s not dependent on weather conditions like wind power or solar. It requires a lot of investment up front, but once it’s operational, the power source is online 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.
The Raton Basin, in south-central Colorado, is one area that’s being looked at closely for potential development geothermal electricity. Temperatures a few thousand feet below the surface are as high as 300 degrees, according to experts with the Colorado Geological Survey, and that heat source is not quite as deep as it is in other parts of the state.
If energy can be developed in the Raton Basin, other basins in the state, including the Denver, San Luis, San Juan and Piceance basins probably also would also be suitable for power generation.
Some upcoming research projects funded by federal grants could help advance the development of geothermal resources, including a $1.1 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to Colorado School of Mines professor Stuart Simmons, who will look for ways to find as-yet undiscovered geothermal resources. Dr. Simmons’ position is funded by Recovery Act monies awarded to CSM through the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office.
Andre Revil and Mike Batzle, also with the school of mines, received a $630,000 for developing an advanced processing framework for survey data to reduce the cost of geothermal exploration.