GEO Supports Tester Geothermal Bill S. 1142

May 26, – Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced S. 1142 in the U.S. Senate, with co-sponsors Harry Reid (D-NV) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The legislation offers broad brush support of geothermal energy development, amending the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

Besides promoting geothermal power and direct use resources in the United States, the Tester bill recognizes that, “Geothermal heat pumps and direct use of geothermal energy, especially in large-scale applications, can make a significant contribution to the use of renewable energy but are underrepresented in research, development, demonstration, and commercialization.”

Senator Jon Tester D-MTSenator Jon Tester

The Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO) stands in full support of the measure (see below). For geothermal heat pump (GHP) systems, the legislation seeks to:

  • Improve the components, processes, and systems used for geothermal heat pumps and the direct use of geothermal energy; and
  • Increase the energy efficiency, lower the cost, increase the use, and improve and demonstrate the applicability of geothermal heat pumps to, and the direct use of geothermal energy in, large buildings, commercial districts, residential communities and large municipal, agricultural, or industrial projects.

GHPs are defined as a system that provides heating and cooling by exchanging heat from shallow ground or surface water using either:

  • A closed loop system, which transfers heat via buried or immersed pipes that contain a mix of water and antifreeze; or
  • An open loop system, which circulates ground or surface water directly into the building and returns the water to the same aquifer or surface water source.

The legislation directs the Secretary of Energy, acting through the Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, to establish a program of research, development, demonstration, and commercial application for geothermal heat pumps, including:

  • Geothermal ground loop efficiency improvements through more efficient heat transfer fluids;
  • Geothermal ground loop efficiency improvements through more efficient thermal grouts for wells and trenches;
  • Geothermal ground loop installation cost reduction through improved drilling methods and improvements in drilling equipment;
  • Installing geothermal ground loops near the foundation walls of new construction to take advantage of existing structures;
  • Using gray or black wastewater as a method of heat exchange;
  • Improving GHP system economics through integration of geothermal systems with other building systems, including providing hot and cold water and rejecting or circulating industrial process heat through refrigeration heat rejection and waste heat recovery;
  • Advanced geothermal systems using variable pumping rates to increase efficiency;
  • Geothermal heat pump efficiency improvements;
  • Use of hot water in mines and mine shafts and other surface waters as a heat exchange medium;
  • Heating of districts, neighborhoods, communities, large commercial or public buildings (including office, retail, educational, government, and institutional buildings and multifamily residential buildings and campuses), and industrial and manufacturing facilities; and (among other things),
  • Geothermal system integration with solar thermal water heating or cool roofs and solar-regenerated desiccants to balance loads and use building hot water to store geothermal energy.

The legislation directs the Secretary of Energy to make grants available to State and local governments, institutions of higher education, non-profit entities, utilities, and for-profit companies (including manufacturers) to promote the development of geothermal heat pumps. Priority status will be given to large buildings (including office, retail, educational, government, institutional, and multifamily residential buildings and campuses and industrial and manufacturing facilities), commercial districts, and residential communities. A project solicitation must be issued no later than 180 days after the legislation is enacted into law.

The bill authorizes appropriations to carry out its provisions in “such sums as are necessary for each of fiscal years 2012 through 2016.’’ The legislation also specifies that starting 2 years after enactment and annually thereafter, the Secretary must report to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology about progress and results (with recommendations) in developing geothermal heat pumps.

Soon after S.1142 was introduced, Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO) President and CEO Douglas Dougherty sent a letter to Sen. Tester’s office, acknowledging the geothermal heat pump industry’s support for the bill:

“On behalf of the Geothermal Exchange Organization, a non-profit trade association representing the interests of the geothermal heat pump industry, I am writing to thank you for your leadership on energy efficiency issues,” said Dougherty.

“We strongly support the legislation you recently introduced with Senators Murkowski and Reid that, among other things, authorizes a new program to help develop innovative technologies to enhance the use of geothermal heat pumps in commercial applications. Your legislation will help address some of the key barriers in our industry, including reducing the cost of installing the geothermal ground loop and integrating geothermal heat pumps with other building systems.”