Thanks to federal grant money, the city of Boise will expand geothermal heating pipeline with Boise State University (BSU). The multi-million dollar project will link all of BSU’s downtown campus to the city’s renewable heating source, which currently has lower heating costs than the market rate.
The U.S. Department of Energy will pay for half of the $2 million second phase of the geothermal expansion, with Boise and BSU each paying $500,000. The first phase of a pipeline connecting BSU to Boise’s geothermal system, announced last year, cost $3.4 million. The federal government paid for $2 million of that project.
Geothermal heating, which is also used at the Idaho Capitol, pumps hot water below the earth’s surface to warm buildings connected through a pipeline. Boise built its geothermal system, which heats part of the city’s downtown area, in the 1980s as a response to energy worries in the 1970s. The new push to expand to BSU, which is across the Boise River from downtown, comes after renewed concerns about fossil fuels and energy costs.
Sen. Jim Risch and Mike Simpson also sponsored the federal earmark for the program.
Boise Mayor Dave Bieter said that Boise is known internationally for its geothermal system, and that its success parallels success of the Boise State University football team.
Bieter said geothermal heat and other renewable sources of energy help make Boise a livable city.
Boise’s geothermal system currently heats 3.3 million square feet, and the BSU expansion will increase that total by approximately 25 percent.
A map from the Idaho National Laboratory shows that much of southern Idaho has known or potential geothermal resources, but it’s unclear how much more geothermal will expand in Boise or throughout the state. It costs $50,000 to expand Boise’s pipeline by one block, according to Kent Johnson, the geothermal coordinator for Boise’s public works department. The start-up costs for geothermal heat, including drilling wells to pump the hot water, can be expensive. Location is also a factor—Boise is close to a fault line, so wells don’t have to be especially deep to pump 170 degree water. In addition, because it relies on water to heat buildings, water usage and water rights issues must also be addressed by new geothermal projects.
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