Monday, November 13, 2006

News From My Backyard: Oregon College Plans State's First Geothermal Power Plant

If all goes according to plan, the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls will soon meet its electricity needs with a new $5 million, one-megawatt geothermal power plant, according to an article in this week's Clearing Up newsletter [sorry, only available by subscription]. The proposed geothermal plant, which would be Oregon's first, would use hot water from a well drilled about a mile deep into a fault system beneath the OIT campus.

According to John Lund, director of OITs Geo-Heat Center, the college's plans also call for an additional 250-kilowatt low-temperature power plant that would use water from existing wells currently utilized to provide district heating for the OIT campus. The college plans to sell excess hot water to neighboring buildings for heating.

[Graphic: part of OIT's existing geothermal district heating system which provides space heating and domestic hot water for the campus, melts snow on sidewalks in the winter and runs chillers in the summer]

Together, the two new geothermal power plants would etablish a geothermal direct-use business incubation center. In addition to providing educational opportunities for OIT students, the business incubation center - which would include a geothermally heated greenhouse and aquiculture ponds - could be used to attract potential businesses in cooperation with a regional economic development association, Clearing Up reports.

Lund said hot water rises up from the fault system beneath the OIT campus and the town of Klamath Falls, and then flows horizontally in a geological layer that the college and city currently tap for residential and commercial district heating. "We have geochemistry indications that the water could be as hot as 300 degrees F," he said. "We're just not sure how deep we would have to go to reach it."

The school has been developing the plans for the last two years, Lund told Clearing Up. The school is reportedly searching for funding sources, both state and federal, and has enslisted the help of the state's congressional delegation. Lund told Clearing Up that OIT is working up a request for bids on the various parts of the project, and hopes to issues a request for proposals (RFP) by next spring or summer. About half of the $5 million project costs - $2.2 million - is estimated for the cost of the deep well, Clearing Up reports.

A power plant for the lower temperature water from existing wells could cost $600,000-$800,000, Lund said. Additionally, if water from the planned deep well proves hot enough, it could be run through a 'bottoming' low-temperature power plant to generate extra electricity after first spinning a steam turbine (i.e., a binary plant configuration). That could boost the output of the proposed plant above one-megawatt. In either case, the water exiting the power plant would still be hot enough to use for space heating, both on and off campus.

The greenhouse and ponds would cost an estimated $300,000 each, Clearing Up reports.

OIT is home to the nation's first modern geothermal district heating system, installed in 1964. The geothermal system uses hot water from three wells drilled during construction of the campus and heats approximately 95% of the campus's 600,000 square feet of buildings, according to an OIT website. The geothermal system also melts snow on 2,300 square feet of sidewalk in the winter, provides domestic hot water, and even cools five buildings during the summer. The college estimates that the system saves them about 70% of the cost of alternative heating fuels (i.e., natural gas).

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