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Jared Polis speaking at the Western Governor Association’s 2023 Annual Meeting in Boulder, Colorado. Photo by Ellen Jaskol.

At the annual meeting of the Western Governors Association (WGA), which took place in Boulder on June 26-28, Colorado Governor Jared Polis provided a report on the Heat Beneath our Feet initiative (HBOF) for 2023. This initiative was launched in July 2022 after Polis assumed the chairmanship of the WGA.

The HBOF program aims to explore opportunities for geothermal energy utilization across the western states and serves as Polis’ official Chair Initiative within the WGA. It investigates the potential applications of geothermal energy for electricity generation and heating/cooling infrastructure in buildings.

Geothermal energy, which derives from the earth’s mantle, can be harnessed to produce electricity by generating steam to drive turbines. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, geothermal energy exhibits an exceptionally low environmental impact, emitting 99% less carbon dioxide compared to fossil-fuel power plants of similar capacity.

The western states possess a significant majority of high-yield geothermal capacity areas in the United States, according to the WGA.

The 2023 HBOF report puts forward several recommendations for expanding geothermal energy usage in the western states. One of its key proposals is an increase in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) to geothermal demonstration projects and the Geothermal Technologies Office, a sub-department of the DoE. The report emphasizes the importance of directing funding not only toward resource potential but also toward mitigating risks and potential pollution issues.

Furthermore, the report underscores the potential for job creation within the geothermal energy sector. HBOF advocates for allocating funding to municipalities and counties with geothermal potential to train and develop the local workforce, maximizing the economic benefits for towns that could become energy producers.

In Chaffee County, the potential usage of geothermal energy has become a subject of significant interest. At the latest Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) meeting on July 11, the Chaffee County commissioners heard a number of public comments regarding the possible construction of a geothermal plant by County Road 323, near Mount Princeton. Concerns raised included potential pollution and worries about obtrusiveness.

At the Buena Vista Fourth of July celebration, a community group called BV Community for a Pristine Mt. Princeton participated in the parade with a float advocating against construction of the above-mentioned plant. The advocacy group is essentially a counter-organization to the nonprofit Mt. Princeton Geothermal, which is the main driving force behind investigating geothermal energy potential near Mount Princeton.

Despite the public comments made which argued against the construction of a plant, Commissioner Keith Baker clarified that there are currently no plans for construction, drilling or further testing at the site in question. For the next phase of investigation, Mt. Princeton Geothermal would require approximately $5 million in funding to conduct drilling and analyze temperature levels and other factors essential to electricity production.

To view the entire presentation on HBOF from June’s WGA meeting, which includes segments from a range of experts in the field of geothermal electricity, click here. As geothermal energy is a continually-developing story and pertinent to Chaffee County and the state of Colorado, the Ark Valley Voice will continue to cover it.