Mining hot and cold |

Mining hot and cold

Candidate for Eagle County commissioner Roger Brown of Gypsum thinks the mining days should never be forgotten. He believes there are still inexhaustible resources below ground that can provide for us in perpetuity.Brown is not talking about silver or gold. He’s talking about heating and cooling our homes and businesses with heat pumps and heat sinks provided by past mining activity. Here’s how he put it recently in a visionary letter to the editor: “As a county commissioner candidate one of my big concerns has been the cost and wastefulness of heating sidewalks, driveways, patios, etc., with fossil fuel-based systems to melt the snow off. Then I began to look into geothermal heat for this purpose.”I built a semiunderground house in 1978 so I know from personal experience that when you go underground below the frost line the ground temperature is between 50 and 55 degrees. This means that in the winter I only have to raise the temperature in my house 20 to 30 degrees to be comfortable, and in the summer the cool walls reduce the heat so I don’t need air conditioning.”Now companies are installing pipes in the ground and circulating the air to provide 50-degree heat for various uses. This is a perfect solution for the heated sidewalks in Vail, but expensive to install – lots of drilling and retrofitting.”Then it occurred to me that the Gilman mine has miles and miles of mine shafts deep underground, some that run almost over to Vail, I’m told. Talk about geothermal heat! If the air in those shafts could be tapped into and circulated in pipes to towns like Gilman, Minturn, Red Cliff, and maybe even Vail, the heat could keep their sidewalks, and even roads, clear of snow through our tough winters at a relatively low cost. And the heat is virtually inexhaustible. Shouldn’t we explore this possibility?”Indeed we should, and not only in Eagle County. Consider the maze of mine shafts and tunnels beneath Aspen. The potential for utilizing the heat of the earth is enormous. By piping into that inner warmth, Aspen could conceivably snowmelt its entire urban core and heat hundreds of buildings.The technology for tapping the earth for geothermal energy is rapidly expanding as energy costs rise. Most geothermal systems utilize an installed network of buried pipes that draw heat and cooling from the earth. Some utilities are offering rebates as high as $1,500 to $2,800 for building a home to prescribed standards that can use geothermal differentiations available almost anywhere. Europe is already well along on this trend.The city of Malmö, Sweden’s third-largest, has launched an ambitious experiment with the “City of Tomorrow.” This futuristic community was founded six years ago on the lofty principles of a clean environment, healthy living, and total energy independence through wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal heating and cooling.The City of Tomorrow website describes “energy systems that are coordinated with waste systems to recover heat to generate biogas. Heat is to be extracted from the sea and rock strata, and methane gas will be extracted from local refuse and sewage, which after being treated will be supplied to the district via the City’s natural gas network.”Aspen may never go that far, but a geothermal system plumbing mine shafts and tunnels would be far more visionary and pragmatic than anything going in the U.S. today. Not only is geothermal energy available for tapping, such a program could also promote integrating district heating and cooling networks for greater efficiency.This is what the city’s Canary Initiative should be all about – accessing historic resources for local solutions to global issues. The honeycomb of mines running beneath Aspen’s streets could again make a valuable contribution to Aspen and the world.Paul Andersen thinks Roger Brown is asking the right questions. His column appears on Mondays.

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