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Opinion: Colorado law should give geothermal energy equal standing with other renewables

A bill before the General Assembly would help unlock geothermal’s potential and bridge the gap to a renewable-energy future

Geothermal energy taps into natural subsurface heat to generate clean, reliable 24/7 electricity. This renewable energy source could have a huge impact on the fight against climate change in Colorado and around the world.

Salina Derichsweiler

So why isn’t geothermal treated as favorably as wind and solar in Colorado’s energy and environmental laws and regulations?

That’s a question posed by the bipartisan sponsors and supporters of SB22-118, Encourage Geothermal Energy Use, which would provide a level playing field for geothermal energy in Colorado.

The bill is sponsored in the Colorado Senate by Sen. Rob Woodward (R-Loveland) and Sen. Nick Hinrichsen (D-Pueblo), and in the Colorado House by Reps. Donald Valdez (D-La Jara) and Richard Holtorf (R-Akron). It passed the Senate and now is under consideration in the House.

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 Among other things, the bill would:

  • Require the Colorado Energy Office to update the state’s greenhouse-gas reduction roadmap to include geothermal energy as a renewable energy resource that electric utilities may use to achieve the roadmap’s greenhouse-gas pollution reduction goals.
  • Require the office to develop basic consumer education about leased or purchased geothermal installations.
  • Limit the charges and fees the state, a county or a local municipality may assess to install geothermal energy systems.
  • Enable the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment to certify geothermal equipment as a type of pollution-control equipment.
  • Allow a county board of commissioners or a regional planning commission, and require a municipal development commission, to include methods for assuring access to appropriate conditions for geothermal energy sources in a development master plan.
  • Clarify that the addition of a geothermal energy device to a building is not necessarily considered a structural alteration, allowing for continued conformity use of a building, structure, or land under a county zoning resolution.
  • Allow the Colorado Agricultural Value-Added Development Board to use some of the money in their cash fund for geothermal energy generation facilities that are collocated with agricultural uses.
  • Include an independently owned geothermal energy system in the property-tax exemption for household furnishings, putting them on the same tax footing as residential solar-energy equipment.
  • Create room in the law for private groups to organize community geothermal gardens, similar to community solar gardens, and would create amendments to define a qualified community geothermal garden location for purposes of local improvement districts and municipal special improvement districts.

Encouraging geothermal development will help us diversify our energy mix, fight climate change and move the United States closer to energy independence. The good news is there’s significant potential for geothermal energy.

Estimates vary, but we believe there are at least 250 gigawatts of geothermal potential in the United States. That’s enough to power 187.5 million homes — every home in the U.S., with plenty of electricity left over. As another example, the estimated geothermal energy under Los Angeles could provide 4.25 times the amount of electricity used by the city and its residents. That’s a lot of energy!

Because of the oil and gas industry’s large presence here, Colorado has great potential for geothermal energy development. There are more than 50,000 oil and gas wells in our state, including active producing wells and older wells that are beyond their productive lives.

Geothermal development could help producing wells turn a waste product – hot water from the wellbore – into a reliable source of always-on clean electricity. In some cases, even orphaned oil and gas wells — that taxpayers otherwise could be obligated to clean up — can be repurposed to geothermal, and the operator would take on the burden of cleanup. 

How does geothermal compare to wind and solar? Like other renewables, geothermal generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions. But unlike wind and solar, geothermal works at full capacity non-stop. It doesn’t require the sun to shine or the wind to blow. Instead, it generates dependable, consistent power that solves the reliability challenges of intermittent renewables.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Because geothermal energy can be produced from multiple sources, it’s distributed energy, rather than energy coming from a single power plant.

We’ve yet to seize the full potential of geothermal, here in Colorado and nationally, but that just means we have a great opportunity ahead of us. Bills like SB22-118 can help us realize the power of geothermal and bridge the gap between current energy sources and those of the future.

You may be excited about the prospect of using geothermal energy and wondering what you can do to help. I encourage you to learn more about geothermal energy, call your state senators and representatives and ask them to support SB22-181. Let’s help Coloradans tap the heat beneath our feet. 


Salina Derichsweiler, of Aurora, is CEO of Transitional Energy.

NOTE: At the request of the author, The Sun has removed the author’s estimate of the share of Colorado’s wells that have geothermal potential, in order that the author can verify the estimate’s accuracy. The estimate was removed April 21 at 8:04 p.m.


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