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Pagosa in the geothermal vanguard

As reported in last week’s edition of The SUN, momentum regarding the development of the area’s geothermal resources has ramped up in recent weeks as research conducted on the geothermal aquifer resulted in evidence indicating a much larger and more complex system than had been previously suspected (see last week’s story).

In addition, two recent events highlighted the growing sense that Pagosa Country is edging closer towards making that geothermal resource the centerpiece of a larger economic development initiative.

Late last month, several community members made their way to Denver to make a presentation at the Geothermal Working Group meeting, sponsored by the Colorado Energy Office (previously known as the Governor’s Energy Office).

In fact, Pagosa Country featured three speakers at the meeting out of a total 19 presenters, providing substantial representation for geothermal issues in the area.

First up, Archuleta County Commissioner Michael Whiting opened the presentations (along with two geothermal experts) with an overview of geothermal development in Colorado.

While noting that the state is gradually embracing geothermal for its potential in the creation of sustainable, clean energy, as well as various other non-energy commercial applications, Whiting also indicated that numerous obstacles remain in harnessing geothermal for a broad-based approach to economic development.

“One problem,” Whiting told SUN staff last week, “is the lack of capital,” stating that it is difficult for rural communities to secure government dollars needed to develop geothermal resources.

“The problem is parochialism,” Whiting continued, referring to attitudes that reject, or are unable to grasp, the potential of geothermal as an important resource for energy and economic development.

“It’s a horse-and-buggy mode of thinking that continues to stand in the way of moving forward with geothermal development,” Whiting said.

Later that morning, Archuleta County Attorney Todd Starr presented on, “How 1041 Regulations are Impacting Geothermal Development.”

Codified in the mid-1970s, 1041 regulations (or “powers”) are spelled out in Colorado Revised Statutes 24-65.1 and, as the Colorado Department of Local Affairs describes them, “These 1041 powers allow local governments to identify, designate and regulate areas and activities of state interest through a local permitting process. The general intention of these powers is to allow for local governments to maintain their control over particular development projects even where the development project has statewide impacts.”

In his presentation, Starr cited C.R.S. 24-65.1-203 (among others), a portion of which states, “(A) local government may designate certain areas of state interest from among the following: (j) The use of geothermal resources for the commercial production of electricity.”

Furthermore, C.R.S. 24-65.1-403 states, “(1) Appropriate state agencies shall provide technical assistance to local governments in order to assist local governments in designing matters of state interest and adopting guidelines for the administration thereof.”

In essence, Starr’s presentation implied that, not only could local governments identify resources (geothermal) for state interests, but, after having done so, could apply for state funds to develop those resources. Starr’s presentation went on to show that the next provision of that section states, “(2) (a) The department of local affairs shall oversee and coordinate the provision of technical assistance and provide financial assistance as may be authorized by law.”

Starr made clear that, while most counties in Colorado have adopted 1041 regulations, none are specific to geothermal resources. However, Starr went on to claim that, “Archuleta County is developing Geothermal specific 1041 regulations (in conjunction with Chaffee, Ouray and Dolores Counties),” in order to pursue further state assistance in developing geothermal resources.

“I am thankful to the Board of County Commissioners for allowing me to participate in a recent geothermal work session in Denver,” Starr said earlier this week. “The session highlighted Archuleta County’s extensive geothermal resources and the region’s potential for economic development.”

Later that day, local businessman Jerome Smith (founder of Pagosa Verde, LLC., a company currently engaged in researching the energy-producing potential of the local geothermal aquifer) presented on a subject Whiting had previously touched on: The challenges businesses faced acquiring needed funding for geothermal projects.

As a solution, Smith spoke about the importance of an alliance of geothermal communities in the Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado and throughout the state. Smith also spoke to the opportunities for financing geothermal development and power generation.

“Presenters from Archuleta County received an enthusiastic response from all the geothermal communities in the state,” Smith said on Tuesday, an assessment that was confirmed by Starr and Whiting.

“The most important comments came from the state legislators who attended. They said they’d never had anyone from the business community present on the economic development potential of geothermal,” Smith added.

“Pagosa Springs was mentioned numerous times as far as the leadership here on renewable and sustainable energy,” Smith said.

The three local representatives also said that they’d heard from almost all attendees that Pagosa Country is leading on geothermal development and technology.

“It became apparent to me that Archuleta County’s extensive geothermal resources are recognized statewide, as is the Board of County Commissioners’ strong leadership in encouraging the economic development of those resources,” Starr said.

“They were saying that they’ve heard that we’re the vanguard for geothermal, in not just the state, but in the country,” Whiting said.

“I was honored to be asked again to report (at the Governor’s Work Group in Denver) our steady progress toward creating and attracting new businesses and jobs, and the vitality they bring, using the renewable energy sources in our own back yard and under our feet. When we launched the GGP three and a half years ago, we designed it to represent that desire and goal. We are now beginning to emerge as a leader in rural Colorado. We have job-creating projects getting started and more on the way. We simply need to persistently think ahead and keep moving forward,” Whiting said last week.

That “desire and goal” was front and center as the GGP held a fund-raiser at the Ross Aragon Community Center on June 30.

Presenting their proposed project for putting geothermally-heated greenhouses in Centennial Park, long a dream of Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon, the group also held a series of auctions to raise funds — as well as awareness — for the proposal.

Items for auction ranged from a Ford Expedition (donated by GGP representative Elaine Wood and her husband, Dave) to services offered by local luminaries: Window-washing by Chamber of Commerce Director Mary Jo Coulehan, lawn mowing by Archuleta County Sheriff Pete Gonzales, horse rides from Aragon and a dinner made and hosted by Pat and Linda Parelli.

At the end of the day, the GGP raised $14,101.50 to go towards installing the greenhouses.

The mayor (who chairs the GGP) has previously stated that the first greenhouse would be installed this summer.

If local presenters at the Colorado Energy Office’s Geothermal Working Group conference interpreted comments from attendees correctly and Pagosa Country is really leading on geothermal, it is the direct result of the hard work and determination that many local residents have shown in developing what is arguably the area’s most valuable resource.

And if preliminary results from Colorado School of Mines research are correct, there is, quite possibly, a lot of that resource to go around.

In just a few short weeks, the momentum for developing that resource has taken a few major steps forward.

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