WASHINGTON — Volunteers with the Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO) Pacific Northwest Utility Work Group (PNW) recently joined outreach and communications manager Ted Clutter in meetings with officials of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and the Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE). Their purpose was to continue dialogue started during a May 15 meeting on geothermal heat pumps (GHPs) convened by the resource-focused Oregon Geothermal Working Group.

During a meeting with BPA in Portland, Ore., discussion centered on agency incentives for GHPs, and possible opportunities to bolster that support. BPA is the marketing agent for power from all federally owned hydroelectric projects in the Pacific Northwest. The agency recognizes the efficiencies that can be gained with GHPs, but needs information for a revised specification that recognizes modern equipment efficiencies. BPA currently offers utilities up to $3,500 per residential GHP installation with a desuperheater in two of three specified heating zones, regardless of federal tax rebates. Specifications include COP 3.6 and Energy Star Tier One requirements.

BPA uses a Total Resource Cost (TRC) formula to calculate efficiency. GHPs are marked down due to high upfront cost, and because fuel switching is not allowed, GHPs cannot count cost savings against alternatives like fuel oil or propane. GEO will continue to work with BPA on these and other issues, and collaborate to foster increased commercial installations across the region. The GEO group also discussed the possibility of future meetings and workshops that would focus on successful GHP incentive programs and utilities that have installed GHPs at their facilities.

The GEO group then met with Lisa Schwartz, director, ODOE, and upper management at their headquarters in Salem, Ore. The agency is limited in its ability to promote any individual technology. Discussion focused on ODOE’s involvement in research to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy. The agency is responsible for reviewing all state efficiency designs, and a 20 percent energy-reduction mandate for state buildings. The Energy Trust of Oregon and the Public Utility Commission (PUC) drive 70 percent of the investor-owned utility-efficiency programs in the state.

ODOE has been involved with geothermal energy for many years. The agency has provided tax credits to several hundred residential GHP users since the 1990s, but remains primarily concerned with hot aquifers for direct use and power generation. ODOE officials urged the GEO group to work with BPA and the Regional Technical Forum (Northwest Power and Conservation Council) to effect change.

Publication date: 8/19/2013 

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