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Pagosans travel to Europe to study geothermal potential

With the Town of Pagosa Springs hosting a meeting of the Colorado Geothermal Working Group (CGWG) last week at the Ross Aragon Community center, two of the local presenters shared their experiences from a recent trip to Europe that showed them the potential for greatly expanded renewable, sustainable and clean energy technologies.

Representing the Pagosa Geothermal Advocates (PGA), Kathy Keyes (owner of Pagosa Baking Company) accompanied Archuleta County Commissioner Michael Whiting (representing the GGP — Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership) on a trip to Germany and Austria at the invitation of a consortium of companies and organizations interested in expanding renewable, sustainable and green energy sources throughout the world.

Stating that Pagosa Springs came to the attention of the Europeans due to the GGP, PGA, a proposed comprehensive NREL (National Renewable Energy Labs) study and work being done with biomass (through local businessman J.R. Ford), Whiting said the invitation, “... was the result of us declaring our intentions to take advantage of our renewables.”

Following a week of tours, symposiums and presentations, both Keyes and Whiting say they returned to Pagosa Springs realizing that local, state and federal governments are not doing nearly enough to break the country’s dependence on foreign oil and greenhouse gasses.

However, both say that the solution has as much to do with the government’s will as it does with free market participants taking the initiative to develop businesses focused on alternate energy sources. In that, both agree that Germany and Austria are much more developed in the partnerships that private enterprise and public entities have that nurture the expansion of alternative energy technology and infrastructure.

“They’re at least two decades ahead of us,” Whiting said. “We have a lot to learn from them as to how we incentivize the private sector to develop these programs and invest in the necessary infrastructure.”

“I was impressed with the entrepreneurship that evolved in response to the financial mechanisms offered by the government,” Keyes said. As an example of how far that could extend, she reported on one community in Germany that was selling energy back into the country’s power grid.

“They’d exceeded their own energy needs and were actually selling it back to the power companies,” she said.

“We saw facilities where multiple fuels were being used, simultaneously,” Whiting added, saying that Pagosa Springs, with its nascent emphasis on geothermal and solar had not considered all the options.

“We can expand biofuels, geothermal and solar are not our only options.

“I guess the take on it is that all these things are scalable. We saw apartment complexes with their own wood pellet heating units that heated the buildings,” Whiting said. “With a little help from the government, the private sector takes over and the whole thing becomes self-sustaining.”

In fact, Colorado — and especially Pagosa Springs — is uniquely positioned to expand into manufacturing biomass fuels. As the country’s second-largest producer of wood pellets, Whiting said he believes the area would do well to court manufacturers of wood pellet burning units, establishing another industry for the county.

“How many jobs would we create and retain if we did that?,” he asked.

From concepts such as feed-in tariffs and the creation of public/private partnerships for the expansion of sustainable energy sources, Keyes and Whiting presented much of what they learned from their week-long junket to Europe.

Keyes added that the importance of the trip was not just what they observed and learned, but in the relationships that were formed — relationships that could, in the near future, put Pagosa Springs at the forefront of the nation’s attempt to break its dependence on foreign energy.

“I’m grateful that we got a view of what the potential for the future is,” Keyes said. “But, more importantly, it also gave us networking opportunities within the state that are very valuable. It’s going to benefit this area a lot. It’s wonderful to have these contacts.”

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