Klamath Falls, a small town in southern Oregon, is and has been using geothermal energy directly to supply heat for a district heating system since the early 1990's.
Geothermal wells in this town of 20,000 mark one of the nation's most ambitious uses of a green energy resource with a tiny carbon footprint, and could serve as a model for a still-fledgling industry that is gaining steam with $338 million in stimulus funds and more than 100 projects nationwide.
Some Town History:
The Klamath Falls Geothermal District Heating System (pdf) was originally completed in 1981, but due to the concerns of existing local well owners, a city ordinance was passed which effectively prevented the system from operating.
A great deal of aquifer research was conducted and the system finally entered into “test” operation in 1984. A few years later, structural problems combined with litigation caused the system to be shut down until 1991, when city funds along with a loan from the Oregon Department of Energy, enabled the appropriate system repairs to be made and everything went back online.
Perhaps what makes the story a little ironic is how the city was not thinking "green" when it first started looking into geothermal energy.
"We didn't know it was green. It just made sense," said City Manager Jeff Ball. The location and availability of the resource making it all but impossible to not consider.
Feeding from this district heating system are downtown sidewalks, buildings, kettles at a brewhouse, greenhouses and lights at a college campus. Not to mention the more than 600 geothermal wells heating individual homes throughout the township.
The Hot Dry Rock (HDR) needed for geothermal heating is closer to the surface in this area of Oregon, and comes with the water needed to bring the energy to the surface.
A little further south, Northern California is home to the world's largest geothermal power complex. The Geysers, 75 miles north of San Francisco, produces enough electricity for 750,000 homes with its annual production of 955 MW.
A 2007 Massachusetts Institute of Technology report estimates that Enhanced Geothermal Systems, with support, could be producing 100 GW of electricity - equivalent to 1,000 coal-fired or nuclear power plants - by 2050, and has the potential to generate a large fraction of the nation's energy needs for centuries to come.
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