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Geothermal Direct Use and Small Power Workshop 2009

GEA’s Klamath Falls Workshop Showcases Diverse Uses of Geothermal Resources
By: John McCaull, GEA Western States Representative
Photos courtesy of Christine Mason McCaull.

August 21, 2009. In a remote area on the California-Oregon border, and without much fanfare, the community of Klamath Falls is creating a virtual laboratory of economic and environmental innovation using one of the area’s less-obvious natural resources: the abundant, hot, geothermal water of the region’s volcanic past. With attendance of over 100 participants from all over the world, the Geothermal Energy Association’s (GEA) two-day Geothermal Energy Small Power and Direct Use Workshop at the campus of the Oregon Institute of Technology heralded a growing recognition that geothermal resources are available for a lot more than utility-scale electricity production.

"Direct use", as the name implies, involves using the heat in geothermal water directly (without a heat pump or power plant) for such things as heating of buildings, industrial processes, greenhouses, aquaculture (growing of fish) and resorts. Direct use projects generally use resource temperatures between 38°C (100°F) to 149°C (300°F). Current U.S. installed capacity of direct use systems totals 470 MW or enough to heat 40,000 average-sized houses.

Klamath Falls, Oregon, is located on a Known Geothermal Resource Area (KGRA), which has been used by residents primarily for space heating since the turn of the century. At present, there are over 550 geothermal wells serving a wide variety of uses. This utilization includes the heating of homes, schools, businesses, swimming pools and snow melt systems for side walks and a section of highway pavement. Most of the eastern portion of the city is heated by geothermal energy.

With opening welcomes from Klamath Falls Mayor Todd Kellstrom, MaryAnn Zemke of OIT, John Lund, the Director of OIT’s Geo-Heat Center and Karl Gawell of GEA, the August 12 th workshop featured speakers highlighting the many uses of geothermal resources. On August 13 th, a busload of workshop participants spent the day touring the sites featured at the Workshop. One message was clear: when it comes to using renewable energy resources, the only limitation is one’s imagination.

The Oregon Institute of Technology was the hub of the workshop, and was picked as the site for GEA’s first event of this kind for good reason: the campus location was literally chosen to take advantage of the region’s geothermal energy potential. The OIT campus has been heated by the direct use of geothermal energy since 1964. Three geothermal wells drilled during the original campus supply all of the heating needs of the eleven building campus. All are equipped with variable speed drives to modulate flow to campus needs. The actual flow rate for heating is dependent upon outside temperature. Swimming pool and domestic hot water heating impose a small but relatively constant year-round flow requirement.

Just a few days before the conference kicked off, the switch was also flipped to “on” for a new 280 kW (gross) Pratt & Whitney “Pure-Cycle” geothermal Power System on the OIT campus. As one of the main sponsors of the Workshop, Pratt & Whitney Sales Manager Michael Ronzello explained the installation and use of this unit, which will provide approximately 20 percent of the electricity demand on its campus, saving the school about $100,000 annually. The PureCycle power system will tap geothermal water supplied from existing wells now used to heat the campus.

The addition of the PureCycle geothermal power system will move the campus closer to becoming a “zero net” energy user and is the first step in OIT’s plan to develop a larger-scale (1.0 MWe) binary power plant. "We'll be the first campus in the world to be 100 percent powered from a geothermal resource on its campus," said John Lund.. The school also offers a degree in renewable energy engineering and will use the geothermal power plant as a teaching tool and hands-on laboratory for OIT students. “This is an important addition to our campus academic programs that will better prepare our students to perform in the real world,” Lund said.

Another innovation featured at the workshop was a full understanding of the Klamath Falls Geothermal Heating District, which has been in operation for over 25 years. The City’s Geothermal District heating system, completed in 1982, was a natural extension of the successful use of geothermal resources on the OIT campus. Construction funds were provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, State of Oregon and City of Klamath Falls. Currently, the system is approaching the original 1977 design capacity, and serves the City’s wastewater treatment plant, 24 buildings totaling about 400,000 square feet, 150,000 square feet of greenhouses and approximately 105,000 square feet of sidewalk, road and bridge snowmelt systems. Special thanks is due to the City’s operational staff and Brian Brown of Brown Engineering for guiding workshop participants through the buildings and facilities that have to withstand some of the most intense winter conditions in the Northwestern U.S.

Klamath Falls was not the only community featured at the workshop. About 75 miles south of Klamath Falls lies the small town of Canby, CA. As a community struggling to cope with timber mill closures and other rural economic challenges, installing a geothermal heating district system provided the town a much needed economic boost. As Dale Merrick eloquently illustrated, sometimes geothermal projects enhance town pride and well-being as much as the bottom line for heating businesses and homes. The workshop also ranged much farther afield by showcasing the successes of Chena Hot Springs in Alaska, the opportunities for establishing a geothermal heating district in Mammoth Lakes, CA, the first oil-field geothermal recovery project at the Rocky Mountain Oilfield Test Center in Wyoming, and the resurgence of interest in Texas of utilizing the state’s many historic hot springs and direct use sites. Thanks go to Bernie Karl, Lyle Johnson, Dave Harvey and Janet Abbott for educating participants about the geothermal resources in other states and regions. Participants closed out the workshop with a reception at the Creamery Brew Pub and Grill., which is the only brewery in the world that uses geothermal energy in their brewing process, and to heat their building.

The private sector has also certainly embraced the use of geothermal resources in the Klamath Falls region. Workshop speakers previewed the August 13 th tour day, featuring a massive tree seedling greenhouse business operated by IFA Nurseries, the “Gone Fishing” operation of Ron Barnes and Liskey Farms.

For sheer variety, the Liskey Farms operation became the centerpiece of the workshop tour. The geothermal resource on the Liskey property was once considered a nuisance to Jack Liskey, the ranch owner. It has been used for house heating and, after cooling in surface ponds, for stock watering and crop irrigation on the 300 acre ranch. There are six geothermal wells on the ranch, which heat an array of greenhouse operations by finned tube pipes below each bench with a metal shield placed over them to better distribute the heat. Additional heating is provided by finned tube pipes around the perimeter. A large storage and processing warehouse was added with radiant floor heating. The greenhouse effluent water is used to heat 37 shallow tropical ponds adjacent to the greenhouses. The outflow from the ponds is then cooled in a large storage pond and finally used for stock watering

The series of greenhouses near the entrance road are used for biodiesel production and for raising organic vegetables, and a very unique “biopest” control operation. The biodiesel facility, run by Rogue BioFuels is heated by a radiant floor system and geothermal energy is also used in the biodiesel fuel process. Presently the plant uses canola and waste oil for producing the fuel feed stock. The fuel operation is designed to produce 1,500 gpd (5,700 L/day) of biodiesel for the local market. The older greenhouses no longer raise potted plants for the local market, but instead raise lima bean plants that serve as a host plant for raising spider mites. The mites and their eggs are then shipped to Southern California as a “feedstock” for the real product: the raising of predator mites for the agricultural sector that control spider mites in California’s multi-billion farm industry.

The tour day ended with a walk around “Gone Fishing” Farms which uses the waste water from the Lisky greenhouses to grow tropic fish for aquariums and tilapia for the food market. Most of the ponds raise cichlids that originally came directly from Lake Malawi in eastern Africa where the lake water is similar to the 8.0 pH local geothermal water. The operation uses a geothermal well that provides 210 F (99 C) water that reaches the ponds at 197 F (92 C) through aluminum and PVC pipe. The geothermal water quickly mixes with the cold pond water to provide 80 F (27 C) which is ideal for the fish. The owner raises more than 100 varieties of fish, and sells to markets in the San Francisco Bay Area – trucking about a 1,000 fish each week.

For GEA, and the workshop participants drawn from a worldwide audience, the two-day study in innovation left all asking the same question: what other communities and areas have geothermal resources that can be tapped, reused and shared to institute a similar economic revival in communities both large and small? The workshop gave participants a roadmap of the financial incentives and regulatory options to institute direct use and small power projects, and GEA would like to thank the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Agricultural, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Oregon Department of Energy and the Energy Trust of Oregon for providing an excellent overview of how to fund and permit projects similar to those featured at Klamath Falls.

For more information on the event please contact Kathy Kent at

To download a copy of GEA’s August 2009 Report on “Small Power and Direct Use Incentives”, please click here.

To download the presentations made at the Geothermal Energy Small Power and Direct Use Workshop, please click here.

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