Just when Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO) president Doug Dougherty thought Congress had passed a bill recognizing geothermal heat pumps as renewable energy sources, it was taken away.

S.3254, the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013, was passed by the Senate with an amendment that modified the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The amendment recognized geothermal heat pumps as an option for federal agencies to meet the government’s renewable-energy purchase goal.

The House then passed the bill, and just as the geothermal industry began to celebrate, they realized that the approved version, which was sent to President Barack Obama, did not include the amended language.

“We’re close,” Dougherty said. “We definitely have the support of the Senate in recognizing geothermal heat pumps as efficient and renewable, but we have some challenges in the House.”

GEO has worked extensively with Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, and James Inhofe, R-Okla., to attempt to put this legislation together.

Despite the tough defeat to end 2012, Dougherty is optimistic moving into 2013.

“It’s a challenge for the industry to get the recognition it needs from global policymakers,” Dougherty said. “We have the same challenges at the state level.”

Not all hope is lost, though. Dougherty said he is confident the legislation will pass in 2013. Confident, too, is WaterFurnace president and CEO Tom Huntington.

“We were initially disappointed, but after reading the conference committee manager’s report, we were pleased to see a reaffirmation of the U.S. Department of Defense’s definition of clean energy, which currently embraces geothermal heat pumps as an efficient, clean-energy alternative,” Huntington said.

Huntington, who also is the chairman of GEO, said he “absolutely” expects the legislation to go through this year, stating, “We’ll continue to work with Congress on this important definitional change.”

Work in Progress

Although the amendment’s exclusion was disappointing for GEO, the organization’s not going to quit fighting, especially at the state level, where Dougherty feels they were basically left out of the decision-making process on renewable-energy policies.

Dougherty said GEO is working at the state level in Illinois, Colorado, Massachusetts, Vermont, and California in an effort to “get public officials to recognize the value of a geothermal heat pump in terms of efficiency and renewability.” Dougherty believes that Illinois and Colorado may be the first of that group to pass legislation.

But as it stands now, only two states, Maryland and New Hampshire, have included geothermal heat pumps in their renewable energy standards language, and only six states recognize geothermal technology as “efficient,” creating some issues when it comes to gaining recognition for what a geothermal heat pump can do.

A number of states have passed energy policies excluding geothermal heat pumps.

“We didn’t have advocacy at the state level in any of those states, so we were basically left out,” Dougherty said. “So now the challenge is to change an existing policy rather than create one. When you’re creating a public policy, you have a seat at the table; you get a chance to include your technology. If you’re not at the table, once the policy is accepted as law, or put through a public utility commission order, it’s very difficult to change it. So now we have a very focused and concerted effort at the state level and whenever we get the opportunity to have a group at the state level, we support them. I think we’re going to be successful.”

Patience is a Virtue

By all accounts, GEO expects this legislation to pass at some point in 2013, but until then, Dougherty is preaching patience. “When you’re dealing with government, you have to be very, very patient. But at the same time, you have to be persistent,” he said. “You can’t give up; you can’t go away. You have to stay in the face of people. You’ve got to be touting your technology over and over again. We need to be at the table at the state level and the federal level to basically convince government that we have a very, very important technology.”

Getting the legislation passed at the federal level is just the first step. Dougherty is hopeful that once federal legislation is passed, the states will fall in line and pass bills that recognize geothermal heat pumps.

“On the federal level, it’s a matter of convincing a few prominent members of the House Energy Committee and I think we can get that done,” Dougherty said. “Once that’s done at the federal level, I think we can use that to help us at the state level. If we can get four to five states to change their public policy, then it’s the domino effect.

“I think 2013 is going to be a good year for us. We continue to build support at the state level and continue to build champions of our technology at the federal level.”

Publication date: 2/4/2013