During its Strategy Retreat in Oklahoma City earlier this year, the board of directors and staff of the Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO) discussed current issues – especially legislation that can help eliminate the many barriers to widespread adoption of geothermal heat pump (GHP) technologies and industry expansion.
GEO recently testified in support of S.1142, the Geothermal Exploration and Technology Act, introduced by Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mon.), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The bill directs the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct research to improve ground loop efficiency; reduce ground loop installation cost through improved drilling techniques and equipment; explore innovative uses of wastewater and mine water for geothermal systems; demonstrate the viability of large-scale commercial and residential neighborhood projects; and integrate geothermal with solar systems to balance loads and store energy. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources plans to mark up the bill in coming months, and GEO is working with the bill sponsors.
GEO also is actively seeking establishment and funding of a permanent DOE GHP Technology Program Office. Working with Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.), GEO included language in the FY 2012 House Energy and Water Appropriations bill directing DOE to develop a strategic plan for promotion of GHPs, and to issue a report to Congress within 180 days. The legislation also restores funding for the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) to collect data on GHPs and other renewable energy technologies. The bill passed the House on July. The Senate has not yet considered its version of the FY 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations bill. GEO is working with Sen. Jon Tester to include language to direct DOE to assign dedicated staff to GHPs.
GEO supports S.1000, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, introduced by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Its goal is to increase the use of energy-efficiency technologies in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. Among other things, S.1000 would call for stronger building codes, boost private investment in building efficiency upgrades, and enable customers of rural electric cooperatives to make efficiency upgrades to their homes and businesses by establishing loan programs that can be repaid through utility bills. Such “on-bill financing” loan programs help reduce the impact of GHP upfront cost to consumers, and are vigorously supported by GEO. The bill also amends the federal Renewable Energy Standard to include thermal energy. S.1000 was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and awaits consideration by the full Senate.
In addition, GEO supports S.963, the Reducing Federal Energy Dollars Act, introduced by Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.). The bill would require federal agencies to issue reports that detail their energy and water usage; expand the use of energy savings performance contracts; update federal building energy-efficiency performance standards; and broaden the definition of renewable energy to include thermal energy (the current definition limits renewable energy to electric energy generated from a renewable source). GEO is working with the sponsors of both S.1000 and S.963 to ensure that thermal energy avoided by GHPs is counted as part of the federal Renewable Energy Standard.
GEO leadership is closely monitoring tax reform and deficit reduction proposals to guard against efforts to cap or eliminate the current tax credit for residential and commercial geothermal heat pump installations through 2016.
Although Clean Energy and/or Renewable Energy Standards (CES/RES) don’t have much momentum in the current Congress, GEO continues its work to ensure that GHPs will be included any CES/RES legislation that might move in the future. GEO responded to the issue last spring in detailed comments on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources’ white paper on Clean Energy Standards.
GEO supports the Rural Energy Savings Act, which is expected to be reintroduced in the Senate during coming months. The legislation would create a new loan program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service to provide no-interest loans to electric cooperatives, which, in turn, would provide low-interest loans to their members for energy-efficiency upgrades (including GHPs).
Additional IssuesUtilities’ support for GHPs is an issue of continuing importance for GEO, which recognizes the pivotal role of electricity providers in promoting energy conservation with GHPs. Of particular interest are geothermal loop ownership by utilities and other ratepayer leasing options by electric co-ops, municipal power and investor-owned utilities.
Energy-efficient loan programs through the Federal Housing Administration are under study by GEO for existing and potential inclusion of GHPs, and how such programs can be created or improved to benefit GHP consumers and the industry.
Federal green initiatives are a new partnership opportunity for GEO, which now is involved in a number of programs for energy-efficient and green buildings by the Department of Education, General Services Administration, Federal Energy Management Program, Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense. GEO seeks a prominent place for GHPs within these programs.
Workforce training is of ongoing interest to GEO, which supports training programs offered by the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA). GEO is evaluating potential new funding sources under legislation such as the Workforce Investment Act, and continues its work under contract with DOE to develop GHP installation standards with IGSHPA and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.