It was a good year for geothermal, and much of that credit must go to Doug Dougherty and his staff at the Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO). Well, if you can call the 1.5 people working for the GEO president and CEO his “staff.” You’d never guess that his staff was so small by looking at the items the group accomplished this year. Those accomplishments are the reason Dougherty was named a 2012 NEWSmaker.

GEO calls itself “the voice of the geothermal heat pump industry in the United States,” and in 2012 that voice was heard by legislators all over the country. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of GEO was having the state of Maryland recognize geothermal heating and cooling as a renewable energy source. Maryland was the first state to pass such legislation, and GEO was heavily involved.

“One of our strategies was to spend more time on the state level,” Dougherty said. “I am completely perplexed at how often a state leaves out geothermal heat pump technology when defining renewable energy. In a lot of cases, it was just that we are not at the table, so we were left out.”

U.S. policy makers have typically classified renewable energy sources as utilities generating electricity through solar, wind, or biomass technologies. Maryland’s credit acknowledges a geothermal heat pump system’s ability to save energy in comparison to a traditional heating and cooling system.

After Maryland, New Hampshire became the second state to pass such legislation. Dougherty has high hopes for future geothermal developments in Illinois and Colorado.

“There will be a number of other state initiatives this coming year, and we will expand that list,” Dougherty said.

Additional Legislation

GEO was also instrumental in the Senate bill that amended the definition of clean energy to include geothermal heat pump technology. It currently sits in the House of Representatives and GEO hopes it gets passed during the lame duck session.

“Of course, the No. 1 goal in Washington advocacy is to protect the tax credits,” Dougherty said. “I believe we would lose considerable market share if we didn’t have those 30 percent federal tax credits until 2016 for the new construction and retrofit on the residential side.”

And, of course, just like a lot of other segments of the industry, GEO has a bit of a beef with the Department of Energy (DOE).

“We believe DOE is short shrifting us. We don’t get a lot of program initiatives and research dollars to our technology,” said Dougherty. “It is misguided that their portfolio does not accurately predict the benefit of our technology. We’ll continue to work with them.”

Continuing to get the word out is what Dougherty has been doing since he joined GEO about two years ago. Geothermal is in his blood since he was marketing geothermal heat pumps in the Chicago area in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

“The populace wants to be energy efficient,” Dougherty said. “And 75 percent of a house’s energy costs are for heating, cooling, and hot water. And geothermal can be a real benefit to schools. The air quality is improved, the annual energy bill is lower, and there are fewer days missed due to illness.”

While geothermal had 5 percent of the new home construction market going into the recession, Dougherty sees it coming out with 20 percent of the market. He thinks builders are realizing that they have a better chance of selling their homes if they have geothermal.

“It is positive cash flow on day one for the homebuyer when you mortgage out the cost over 30 years,” Dougherty said.

The NEWSmaker will be at it again in 2013. Goals for the year are to continue to educate the public, get utility support, and get states to recognize the technology as renewable.

“This is a great ride putting geothermal on the map,” he said. “We are on the cusp of exploding, and I want to be a part of it.”

2012 NEWSmaker

Name: Doug Dougherty

Title: President and CEO

Company: Geothermal Exchange Organization

Location: Washington, D.C.

Notable quote: “This is a great ride putting geothermal on the map. We are on the cusp of exploding, and I want to be a part of it.”

Publication date: 12/17/2012