Why GEO Matters

The following editorial was taken from GEO President and CEO Doug Dougherty’s Keynote Address on October 6, at the IGSHPA 2011 Technical Conference & Expo.

The Geothermal Exchange Organization matters because it represents the companies that are the backbone of the geothermal heat pump (GHP) industry in the United States. GEO is the political voice in the hallowed halls of Washington, DC for all of the individuals who work for those companies. Yes, we are advocates, but GEO is— and strives to be—much more than that.

GEO and the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA) have complementary missions as associations. GEO is legally chartered as a trade association that can lobby public officials, while IGSHPA is designated an educational association. There is a natural partnership there that I know will grow stronger as we go forward together.

We actively seek and promote new partnerships. GEO recently joined the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy to help us with work at the state level with policy analysis related to efficiency. Another partner is the American Council on Renewable Energy—ACORE. With the help of two GEO members, we are helping them stage a national webinar on geothermal heat pump technologies aimed at state energy officials.

Public outreach is critical to our efforts. All of our members now enjoy a monthly Report to Members newsletter about GEO and industry activities. And we have been very successful in promoting GHPs through press releases to major trade publications. We have provided information for a number of TV news features and magazine articles. Contractor magazine recently published a feature about GEO. And with our assistance, the National Wildlife Federation published a manual about GHPs on college and university campuses. Such publications offer tremendous benefit for the industry.

Many of you know of our work with IGSHPA and Oak Ridge National Laboratory under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to improve GHP installation standards nationwide. This work will go far in building consumer confidence in our product.

On a U.S. tour in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville noted: “Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government of France or a man of rank in England, in the United States you are sure to find an association.” Today, there are thousands of associations in America representing millions of members. And that is what GEO is all about, offering our members value through representation, partnerships, public outreach, and a deep regard for quality standards for our young industry.

We are a newly defined voice for the U.S. geothermal heat pump industry. There are other voices and dedicated partners, including the National Ground Water Association, which stake valid claims to advocacy for GHPs. But GEO is a now a resurging force with a long history, and a well-defined and established role to play in presenting our vibrant young industry to the nation. We are the new geothermal heat pump advocacy organization seeking sensible public policy.

It’s often hard to find. A good example is the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Their recently released Quadrennial Technical Review, which despite GEO comments is all about electric cars, nukes, wind, solar—with no mention of thermal loads in buildings or GHPs. DOE leadership says they are only interested in emerging technologies, and that GHPs are “mature.” That’s why we support legislative initiatives that will force DOE to perform research projects and promote GHP technologies.

At the same time, we must distance ourselves from DOE renewable energy scandals like Solyndra Solar if we are to successfully protect our federal tax credits—a major issue for GEO. To help the indus-try through tough economic times, it is critical that we keep the credits in place until their sunset at the end of 2016. We must have a face, a voice in Washington. We have to get in front of people, and let them know that if the tax credit goes away, our industry goes on life support.

Even though there is gridlock and a paucity of bills being passed by Congress, GEO is engaged with lobbying for a number of legislative initiatives before the Senate and House. The more language we can put into those bills about geothermal heat pumps and their societal and economic benefits, the more we help the industry flourish.

Last month I testified in Washington for Senate Bill 1142, the Tester geothermal bill, which has language that supports our industry by directing DOE to spend more resources on reducing installation costs and other research. When asked for ideas to cut upfront installation costs, I told the committee about “on-bill financing,” where ratepayers can finance a geothermal loop for 20 years with payments on their utility bills. That comment spurred a subject hearing on the issue in mid-October.

When the government thinks about renewable energy, they think about wind, solar and biomass electric generation, not thermal energy savings. We must convince them that GHP technology offers thermal energy that utilities should get credit for. We have two bills that would ensure just that. S.963, the Carper bill, and S. 1000, the Sheehan-Portman bill, which is already out of committee. There’s an outside chance we might pass a Senate bill around a renewable energy standard, with GHPs a part of it. We’re working hard with those legislators and their staffs to make sure that happens.

Champions for GHPs are in the bureaucracy throughout Washington. But they don’t wave a flag. It takes time, effort and persistence to find them, and then to help them figure out ways to further our technology through their agencies. Unlike our work with Congress, this is outreach, not lobbying. GEO is also working on initiatives with the administration and agencies to convey the value of deploying GHP technologies.

During a meeting with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, GEO was their first doorway to GHPs, with very strong buy-in. Two weeks later, President Obama’s Jobs Initiative included a provision to retrofit 35,000 schools with energy efficiency technologies—including GHPs. We don’t think that was a coincidence. A few weeks ago, the chairman of the council visited Bosch in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Again, we believe that GEO is making good things happen for our industry.

The Green Ribbon Schools Initiative created by the U.S. Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency is prompting awareness and spending on energy efficiency, including GHPs. Hundreds of schools across the country have already adopted our technology, with data that proves success. In coming months, GEO will work hand-in-glove with both agencies on a national webinar broadcast to every school district across the country, featuring both new and retrofit GHP applications for K-12 schools.

We recently met with the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Installations and the Environment, who is pushing our technology from a policy perspective throughout the government. There are scores of successful GHP projects accomplished by the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Similarly, the General Services Administration has their P-100 directive, which requires a GHP bid for any building retrofit, assessed over a 20-year life cycle cost. With stimulus finds, GSA has $5.5 billion to retrofit the buildings they own and lease to make them more energy efficient. But GSA knows very little about GHPs. We explained to them that IGSHPA can play a tremendous role in providing customized personnel training programs.

State associations for geothermal heat pumps are taking root and flourishing in states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. And state public utility commissions’ work on clean energy make it imperative that we ensure GHPs are understood.

GEO recently met with the chief counsel of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Com-missioners (NARUC) in Washington, DC. The upshot was an invitation to present GHPs to state PUC commissioners from around the country at their winter convention in February. We hope to tell them the story of Oklahoma Gas & Electric’s (OG&E) pilot program for geothermal loop ownership and leasing. Indeed, if we can replicate what OG&E is doing with utilities across the country, with a tariff in electric rates bearing the cost of ground source loops, we’ve won, because the loop cost goes away.

Public outreach by GEO, the industry and the geothermal community is critical to all of these efforts. We need to get more articles and testimonials about our industry, about the benefits of GHPs—and actively keep pushing the technology into the minds of everybody we can. Word-of-mouth is always the best and least-cost advertising. Countless people love GHPs, and we are making great strides.

A great example is Oklahoma City, where we saw a large mechanical engineering company adopt GHPs, then all of their competitors take notice and do the same. We need to do that city by city, county by county, state by state, region by region across the country. It is all about changing a 50-year old mindset about how we heat and cool buildings.

My sales pitch is Join GEO! We need the support and participation of our members and every company involved in our industry. We ask that GEO members and everyone in the geothermal community must help educate their elected and career public officials at the federal and state levels. They want to know about and see jobs created as energy efficient technologies are deployed in their communities and in their states. Seeing is believing, and we are coordinating those efforts.

Providing a strong industry voice—plus all the other work we do in terms of advocacy, partnerships, outreach and quality standards—is why GEO matters.