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Geothermal Solutions: How Hot Rock Helped Keep the Peppermill Afloat

The Peppermill Resort in Reno, Nevada boasts more than 2,200 hotel rooms and suites, convention space, a spa, two pools, more than 25 restaurants and lounges, a fitness center, and more – in all, more than 2 million sq. ft. of operations. But the most interesting aspect of the resort, at least to its guests this week, may be that everywhere they walk or swim is heated by geothermal energy. This makes the Peppermill the perfect spot for this year's GRC Annual Meeting and Geothermal Energy Expo.

The Peppermill’s geothermal system not only allows the resort to highlight its use of clean energy, it is a major factor that helped the resort stay afloat during the recession. In 2009, the resort doubled its size with the construction of a new tower block of rooms and amenities – and construction took place in the midst of a nation tightening its wallets and cutting leisure costs.

“We doubled in size, our utilities doubled, and we asked: ‘What do we have to do to survive?’ We had geothermal,” said Dean Parker, facilities director at the Peppermill. “We never used it. That’s what got us thinking outside of the box, and that’s how we got to where we are today.” 

The Peppermill’s geothermal heating system is fueled by a hot reservoir 4,400 feet below the surface of its north tower parking lot. At these depths, the facility is able to tap a steady 175°F geothermal resource that hasn’t fluctuated since it was commissioned three years ago. But the project almost never came to fruition. When management was planning the massive expansion, it had decided to remove an unused shallow well near the construction site.

“When we started to build this Tuscan tower many wanted to remove the shallow well,” said Parker, “but we not only convinced ownership to keep it, we convinced them to put $2 million into it with new pumps, new heat exchangers, and we replaced our boilers.”

The entire system cost $6.5 million after drilling production and injection wells, and Parker says that the system will pay for itself in three years – it will be completely paid off in June 2013. Before the system was commissioned, the Peppermill had a $2.2 million per year natural gas bill, and now geothermal completely replaced any need for natural gas.

After confirming the success of the geothermal system both in production and finances, Parker says management is looking into digging deeper wells to produce electricity. At it’s current temperature, the well only has about a 270-kW capacity, but Parker hopes to take advantage of the vast resources further below to meet all or some of the resort's annual energy needs. He estimates that would call for a 9-MW capacity well.

Said Parker, “With this huge resource of power under our feet, we'd be crazy not to take advantage of it.”

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