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Geothermal session — ‘We will prevail’

At a meeting last Thursday in the Ross Aragon Community Center, local officials, business people and interested citizens met with energy experts from around Colorado to discuss the potential future of Pagosa Springs.

The Colorado Geothermal Working Group (CGWG) visited Pagosa Springs to present information on the latest developments in geothermal technology.

Sponsored by the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership (GGP) of Pagosa Springs and the Governor’s Energy Office (GEO), the CGWG meeting was focused primarily on expanding the town’s geothermal resources for economic development and as a clean energy source.

“When the community comes together and focuses on one project, that’s when you see progress,” said GEO representative Francisco Flores.

“In two years, I haven’t seen a community come together like the way I’ve seen in Pagosa Springs,” Flores said. “As long as you stay united and determined, you’ll remain an example.”

However, geothermal was not the only topic, as local businessman J.R. Ford presented an update on his proposed biomass energy plant, set to go online by 2013 at the latest.

Located in Cloman Industrial Park, Ford said that Renewable Forest Energy, LLC would not only provide, “fourteen good-paying jobs for the county,” but would also, “... supply 30 percent of current power usage in Archuleta County.”

Ford added that another benefit of the plant is wildfire and bark beetle mitigation since the plant relies on live and dead trees for the creation of biomass fuel. Ford also said that research has shown a 15-20 percent increase in groundwater when forests are returned to pre-settlement densities.

Following Ford’s presentation, several local officials spoke about inroads being made in the area regarding further development of geothermal resources. Archuleta School District 50 Joint superintendent Mark DeVoti told the audience that, if bond issue 3B passes, the district intends to make full use of passive solar designs, as well as all geothermal resources available.

“The school district is the biggest end user of geothermal heat and we’ve been doing that 100 years. This bond issue is about investing in our community,” DeVoti said.

Saying that the district currently pays $250,000 a year for heating and electricity, replacing the schools with green facilities would not only save the tax payers money (as far as energy costs as well as food grown in district geothermally heated greenhouses) but that it could potentially make Pagosa Springs a model for clean, sustainable energy throughout the world.

“Sure, it will cost more money up front but, if it will pay for itself in eight to ten years and we’re looking at constructing a building that lasts eighty years, we’re talking anywhere between fifty to eighty years of free energy,” DeVoti said.

Likewise, local teacher Sally High spoke about the educational component promised by the GGP, speaking about the expansion of district programs focused on permaculture and the sustainable agriculture.

Following a tour of local geothermal wells and facilities, the group gathered to hear public and private sector experts report on advances in geothermal technology and what those advances could mean for the town’s geothermal system and the local economy.

It was on both those points that Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon spoke when giving an opening statement for the CGWG meeting.

“While we offer soaking pools and health spas, and all of that is OK, we feel that it’s time for developing this geothermal energy for our economic development and greater benefit,” Aragon said.

“Despite the detractors and naysayers,” the mayor concluded, “we will prevail.”

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