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Aspen Hopes to Tap Geothermal Energy with Additional Test Drilling

Aspen city officials are hoping the third time's the charm for a geothermal test-drilling project in the parking lot of the Prockter Open Space on the east side of town.

The twice-suspended project had been set to resume this fall, but new drilling plans have yet to be finalized as September draws to a close, and remain in the works.

“We’re still trying to iron out some details,” Lauren McDonnell, the city’s environmental initiatives program manager, said in a phone message Friday.

The city-backed geothermal project has been in progress for years, with the local government aiming to tap the renewable energy source to heat homes.

The city has yet to finalize a new drilling start date with Dan’s Water Well and Pump Services, Inc., the California-based company that last winter drilled more than 1,000 feet underground on the riverside site, across the Herron Park, but didn’t hit water.

Once a timeline is set, McDonnell said the team will inform neighbors in advance of breaking ground.

Last fall, the first effort to drill met 11th-hour resistance from a handful of neighbors who raised concerns about the public process for the project and drilling noise in the neighborhood. After drilling through November and into December, the city halted the project to accommodate neighbors renting nearby homes for ski season.

A second attempt, scheduled for the spring, met logistical delays with the driller and was aborted when officials determined they couldn’t complete the work before Memorial Day. Aspen City Council had mandated the project wrap up before then due to wishes from neighbors renting homes for the summer tourist season.

In mid-May, city officials decided not to break ground and put off drilling for the fall. A city announcement said drilling would resume in late September or early October.

No drilling plan has been finalized in the months since then. McDonnell said Friday they were “running into challenges” with final plans for a drill date with Dan’s Water Well.

In April, the project’s $173,000 total budget was increased by $40,000. It’s unclear how much of that has been spent so far, and McDonnell couldn’t say how much the next drilling attempt will cost, since those details are still being worked out.

The prospect of tapping cheap, clean and renewable energy in underground Aspen water was encouraged by a 2008 city study, which found that water below town may be as warm as 140 degrees. Water warmer than 100 degrees could be used to heat homes or offices.

If the Prockter drilling site is successful, city officials have said they would want to find a second test drilling site before attempting to use the geothermal energy.

This article was originally published on Aspen Daily News Online and was republished with permission.

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