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Aspen goes geothermal

ASPEN ” A 3,000-foot deep geothermal well could be coming to a park near you, according to Aspen’s newest plan to generate renewable energy within the city limits.

Next year, Aspen plans to drill an exploratory well in hopes of tapping geothermal heat at a cost competitive with natural gas, it announced Wednesday.



“We’ve already completed the preliminary feasibility studies, and we believe there are the right temperatures and geology to make geothermal a viable option,” said public works director Phil Overeynder. “We’ve already filed for geothermal water rights with the state, making Aspen the first to apply under the new Colorado Geothermal Act.”

The goal is to find enough geothermal energy to heat 1 million square feet, the equivalent of 10 large hotel structures, said Overeynder. Doing so would cut Aspen’s natural gas needs by about 15 percent, he explained.



The geothermal heat would work by taking the steam and hot water produced in the earth’s core and using it to heat a glycol-based solution that circulates through buildings to heat them. Customers would pay according to the thermal units of energy used as the heated liquid goes by their building. Electricity is still be needed to move the water.

Five locations have been identified for possible test wells, according to Overeynder: in Wagner Park, at the base of Aspen Mountain, Smuggler Park, Ajax Park and near the Cowenhoven Tunnel, according to Overeynder. All are on city-owned land or city-owned right-of-ways, except the latter, he said. It is on the edge of a right-of-way and might require land acquisition.

The wells will be underground, but Aspen residents can expect an impact during the drilling process.

All are the sites are near mined areas, but not in them, he said.

Actually drilling into mined areas complicates matters, said Overeynder. However, the city wanted to drill near the mining sites because anecdotal evidence suggested they might hold geothermal activity. Miners used to work in shifts because it was too hot to spend any extended length of time in the mines, according to Overeynder.

Overeynder expected the cost of the geothermal energy to be competitive with natural gas. In Pagosa Springs, he said, the energy is sold at 75 percent of natural gas rates. However, he acknowledged that customers with existing natural gas heating systems will need to make infrastructure changes in order to be able to use the geothermal energy.

If underground Aspen proves to be a good geothermal source, the city may create a “heat district” like its current electric and water districts, he said. Or it may decide to develop a joint venture with a private company.

The city might also partner with a proposed development interested in using geothermal heat, said Overeynder. He noted he proposed Lift 1A hotel has floated the idea of building smaller geothermal wells underneath the building. It might be interested in using a municipal system instead, he speculated.

The city plans to drill the test well in 2009, and it is still determining the cost of that well and looking for funding from places like the Governor’s Energy Office. The well will be drilled as deep as 3,000 feet ” double the depth of historic mines. Depending on what is found, the city might proceed to drill wells at up to five sites. Ultimately, said Overeynder, the city wants to find a well or combination of wells that will produce 5,000 gallons per minute of 140-degree water.

Overeynder listed several reasons to use geothermal energy, first and foremost that Aspen markets itself as a “green” community, which means visitors expect it to try new technology. He also argued the rise in fuel prices was not over, so all communities should be looking for alternative sources of energy.

“For Aspen to be competitive as a resort, we’re going to have to have heated buildings,” he pointed out. And the more cheaply Aspen businesses can heat their buildings, he pointed out, the more competitive they will be in the tourism market.

Geothermal heating has been used since the Roman Empire as a way of heating buildings, noted a City of Aspen press release.

kredding@aspentimes.com


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