Board approves Aspen geothermal testing site |

Board approves Aspen geothermal testing site

ASPEN – Aspen’s Open Space and Trails Board unanimously gave its blessing Thursday to a city plan to drill a test well in a gravel parking lot across from Herron Park off Neale Avenue to see if the potential exists for a geothermal energy project.

Lauren McDonell, environmental initiatives program manager for the city of Aspen, explained the plan to four board members before their vote and said that geothermal energy could be another way for the community to reduce its carbon footprint.

“If we’re sitting on top of a clean, renewable, carbon-free source of energy, I think we have a responsibility to explore it,” she said. “It could help us decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, and help us address climate change in Aspen. So it’s kind of an exciting opportunity.”

The meeting included a public hearing, but no one from the audience spoke for or against the project. A community meeting was held Monday evening at Herron Park, where about a dozen neighbors posed questions about the impact of the test well on the area, McDonell said.

The city likely will start the test well in late September, drilling up to 1,000 feet below the surface of the parking lot. If answers can be obtained at a shallower depth, the city won’t need to drill any deeper, she said. The nearby Roaring Fork River won’t be affected, McDonell said.

The parking lot is located within the Prockter Open Space, which is why permission from the city’s Open Space and Trails Board was needed. The test site is simply that, McDonell said, explaining that it’s unlikely to be used as a production area should the city move forward with a geothermal energy project. However, it could be used for future monitoring and tests.

Geothermal energy basically is a process of extracting heat from below the earth’s surface and putting it to use. The city expects to drill and hit water that will be tested for its potential. In 2008, a feasibility study showed temperatures in the 90- to 140-degree range were likely in some areas of the city.

The project is expected to take 30 to 45 days, McDonell said. Noise from the test site will be kept at or below 55 decibels, the limit stipulated in a city ordinance based on the time of day and area of town.

“The city is going to do everything it can, within reason, to minimize impacts on neighbors,” McDonell told the board.

According to a city news release, the test site lies just west of old silver mine workings. The project won’t disturb any heavy metal deposits in the area.

“We wanted to pick a site that is city-owned and as close to old mine workings as possible without being in them,” consultant John Kaufman said in a prepared statement.

“We are looking to find out the temperature of the water, the water chemistry, like if it is hard water or alkaline and we hope not to find heavy metals in the water,” he said, adding that historical evidence suggests Aspen miners more than a century ago encountered hot water as they worked.

Water won’t be shooting out of the ground during drilling, in a geyser-like manner, McDonell said in response to a board member’s question.

“Once the test well is completed, one of two things may happen,” she explained. “It could be that we have no use for future monitoring, and we abandon it and restore the area like it’s never been there.”

Another alternative is that the site would continue to serve as a monitoring station, with the drilling hole obscured by a locked manhole-type cover.

She said the project will cost about $200,000, with $50,000 of that amount made possible through a grant from the Colorado governor’s energy office.

McDonell stressed that the city’s geothermal-energy endeavors are very preliminary.

“This is one of at least two test wells before we can even move forward with anything,” she said. “It could be that we hit gold, so to speak, [but that] this isn’t economically or politically feasible for five or 10 years.”

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