Forging Ahead

Dougherty_LO_RES_Crop_2GEO Works Hard to Advocate the Benefits of Geothermal Heat Pumps in Our Capital and Across the Nation

It’s a hectic time for the Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO), the primary national advocacy group for the geothermal heat pump (GHP) industry. From demanding equal treatment at the federal level with other renewable energy industries, to providing assistance on various tax, renewable and energy efficiency issues being pursued by several state geothermal associations, GEO President and CEO Doug Dougherty has his hands full.

              “Our mission lies in five areas,” he said, “including advocacy, partnerships, standards, research, and outreach.” With a staff of two under his direction—and at the behest of an active Board of Directors—Dougherty works to meet all of these objectives, but especially to enhance the legislative and regulatory climate for GHPs across the country. That, he says, “will ultimately increase sales and deployment of our technologies for GEO Members.”

GEO’s Primary Directive

Advocacy is Job #1 for GEO, and Dougherty is up to the task with some 40 years of experience in public policy—including a 7-year stint of commercial marketing for the GHP industry. “With less than a year before they expire, extensions of federal tax credits for both residential and commercial GHP installations are GEO’s first priority,” he said. Little wonder his consternation when GHPs weren’t part of 5-year tax credit extensions Congress granted the solar industry in the Omnibus spending bill last December.

              “Despite our best efforts, we were left out of last-minute, closed door negotiations that failed to include not just GHPs, but several other renewable energy industries, like fuel cells, small wind, and combined heat and power,” Dougherty explained. Since then, he’s been to Washington several times to participate in high-level meetings with key leadership and staff in the House of Representatives and the Senate. All agree that the error must be corrected.

              “Congress should not be picking winners and losers in renewable energy markets,” Dougherty stressed. “There is only one statement of fact: The GHP industry expects the same tax credit extensions for residential and commercial installations that the solar industry got—nothing more, nothing less.”

              Dougherty said the “fix” will be legislative, and he won’t rest until GEO succeeds. “Right now, we’re finalizing language for an amendment that will simply change existing law to include commercial and residential GHPs for the same 5-year tax credit extension and other favorable treatment that solar installations now enjoy. We expect to establish sponsors and the right bill to carry our amendment before June 30.” When that happens, he said, GEO will be calling “All hands on deck!” to everyone in the geothermal industry to voice their full support.

         In the storm over tax credit extensions, GEO’s work with business interests nationwide to extend several tax incentives important to the GHP industry has largely been overlooked.

At the same time Congress passed the Omnibus bill in late last year, it also approved a $650 billion tax package that included permanent bonus depreciation, plus extensions for business expensing and tax breaks offered for energy efficient homes and buildings.

              Finally, GEO has successfully amended a comprehensive energy bill recently voted to the Senate floor with a new definition of clean, renewable energy that includes the thermal output of GHPs for federal energy purchases. “When passed, it will be an important step for the industry,” said Dougherty, “providing an example to state governments that they should consider GHPs in their energy planning.”

              There’s been a flurry of activity at the state level with legislation promoted by local advocates—often with GEO assistance. In the past few years, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Mexico amended their Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) to include thermal energy from GHPs. Vermont established an RPS last year making GHPs eligible for renewable energy credits. And with the Geothermal Alliance of Illinois, GEO amended the state’s renewable and energy efficiency laws. “The result was rebates for GHPs from Commonwealth Edison Illinois and electric cooperatives like Cornbelt Energy,” said Dougherty. Advocates in Michigan and Minnesota are seeking similar treatment for GHPs.

              “On the tax front, Iowa has instituted its own incentives for GHPs, and only last month, South Carolina OK’d tax credits for GHP installations,” Dougherty continued. “And the New York Geothermal Energy Organization is working hard to put fresh tax credit and sales tax relief legislation in front of Gov. Cuomo this spring for his signature into law.”

Nurturing the Industry

GEO takes its partnerships seriously, evidenced by a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA). “With coordinated efforts for research and training,” Dougherty said, “our reborn cooperation with IGSHPA will certainly be fruitful for the industry.” GEO has a similar MOU with the National Ground Water Association (NGWA).

              Dougherty attended the NGWA Fly-in to Washington, DC on Feb. 22-23. “The event attracts scores of members for well-organized and targeted visits to key legislators,” he said. Additional GEO allies include the American Ground Water Trust, the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute.

              Standards for the GHP industry have always been important to GEO. “Former GEO Chief Operating Officer John Kelly led a study completed for the U.S. Department of Energy in 2012 that set standards for the wide variety of jobs within our industry,” Dougherty noted. GEO is now promoting a new Bi-national geothermal standard for the design and installation of GHP systems. “C448 is important because local governments typically want standards for equipment and ground heat exchangers” said Dougherty. “The industry wants these standards too, because they hold everyone involved in GHP installations to a high level of quality and integrity.”

              When it promises far-reaching impact, research is another important GEO activity. A 2013-14 study cosponsored by Utility Member Gulf Power/Southern Co. compared the efficiency of variable refrigerant flow (VRF) and GHP equipment installed at the ASHRAE International Headquarters Building in Atlanta, GA. “The result? GHPs outperform VRF systems by more than 40%,” said Dougherty.

              To spread the good word about GHPs, the association maintains an aggressive public relations and outreach program, which has made GEO the voice of the industry. “Whenever you pick up a copy of Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration News, Contractor, National Driller and other magazines, you typically see articles about GHPs and GEO activities, quoting our members and staff.” Dougherty said.

              In addition, GEO staff and Board Members travel far and wide to spread the good word about GHPs and association activities. They’ve appeared at several geothermal and energy efficiency industry conferences so far this year, and will continue their efforts through 2016 and beyond.

Bigger Means Stronger

Strength in numbers carries a lot of weight in Washington, DC and in state capitals across the country. “GEO’s success—not just in extending the federal tax credits for GHPs, but on other legislative and regulatory issues at the federal and state levels—can only come from unity,” Dougherty emphasized.

              To win positive results, GEO needs the support of everyone involved in the industry. “I urge everyone who is not a member to reflect on their commitment to the success of GHPs as an alternative to conventional heating and air conditioning. For all companies that benefit from our efforts for the industry, we ask you to make the decision now to become a GEO Member,” Dougherty concluded. Readers can access membership information and sign up online by clicking on “Become a Member” at the GEO website, here. (TJC/GEO)