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Colorado Senate advances geothermal energy bill

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Posted at 8:01 PM, Apr 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-06 00:11:42-04

DENVER — As energy prices continue to climb, Colorado lawmakers are advancing a bipartisan bill that would give property owners more options when it comes to how they heat and cool their homes.

Senate Bill 118 passed the Colorado Senate on Monday and is now headed to the House of Representatives. The legislation puts geothermal energy systems on a similar footing in state law as the bigger green-energy technologies like wind and solar.

"This bill didn't go all the way to follow kind of federal and state tax subsidies and some of those kinds of things. I wanted to introduce to the legislature what geothermal is," explained Sen. Rob Woodward, (R) Loveland, the bill's sponsor.

SB22-118 adds geothermal energy systems to many of the existing laws that protect home solar systems from prohibitive development or zoning regulations.

For example, Sections 2, 6, and 8 of the bill limit the amount of permitting fees that state and county governments can charge for geothermal systems. Section 7 specifies that geothermal systems are not considered structural alterations for purposes of zoning or land use.

The bill also requires the Colorado Energy Office to develop basic consumer education and guidance about geothermal installation projects.

"This is focused on, you or I or anybody could drill a well beneath your home, and heat and cool your house, heat it in the winter and cool it in the summer without having to pay for natural gas or electricity," Woodward said.

Geothermal exchange takes advantage of the insulating properties of the earth. Below a depth of about 10 feet, the ground temperature remains close to 54 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Commercial and residential home heating systems that use geothermal heat pumps push water or another medium like glycol through a system of pipes buried in the ground.

In warmer months, the cold air is used to cool the structure. In the winter, the system is reversed. Geothermal systems have been used for several years. The Colorado Capitol became the first state capitol building to have one installed back in 2013.

The idea was applied on a broad scale in the development of the new Geos Neighborhood in Arvada. The entire neighborhood achieves net-zero emission through a combination of geothermal, solar power, and energy efficiency construction upgrades.

"Thirty percent of all the greenhouse gases are produced by homes and in order to eliminate that, we need to do what we did," designer Norbert Klebel told reporter Thomas Hoppough in December.

Woodward said he sees geothermal as a more dependable green technology, even though it lacks much of the support from special interest groups that wind and solar have attracted.

"Geothermal installations really come from your local plumber and water well driller," he said. "They don't have big lobbyists behind them. So, what this bill officially started out as is how do we put this on par with some of those other options to heat and cool homes."

Woodward's co-sponsors are Sen. Nick Hinrichsen (D) Pueblo, Rep. Donald Valdez, (D) La Jara, and Rep. Richard Holtorf (R) Akron.


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