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Geothermal loop that will connect to BSU advances

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter talks about the $5.5 million geothermal project will loop across campus in two phases.

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter talks about the $5.5 million geothermal project will loop across campus in two phases.

A project that will link Boise State University to the city of Boise’s geothermal system is moving full steam ahead, with university officials expecting nearly 1 million square feet of campus space to be heated with the naturally heated underground water over the next few years.

Sen. Mike Crapo, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter and university officials gathered on campus July 7 to celebrate the new link, including money secured earlier this year for a second phase.

The first $3.4 million segment will bring pipeline across the Capitol Bridge and provide heat to six university buildings. The second $2 million stage will cross back across the Broadway Avenue Bridge and link another two buildings on campus, with the possibility of additional connections in the future.

Construction is expected to begin on the first phase in the summer of 2011. The second phase should be finished in 2013 or 2014.

Boise, which built its system in 1983 amid record high energy costs, has the largest direct-use geothermal system in the country, serving 58 customers with about 3.8 million square feet of building space.

Water that’s hotter than 170 degrees is pumped from the ground near St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center, distributed to buildings downtown and re-injected into the aquifer near Julia Davis Park.

The university connection will represent a 25 percent expansion of the system.

Crapo, along with Rep. Mike Simpson and Sen. Jim Risch, helped secure $2 million for the expansion as part of a 2009 congressional spending bill and another $1 million in an earmark this year. The city and university will pay for the rest.

“In any energy policy that we pursue in this nation, geothermal power must necessarily be a key component,” Crapo said. “Here in Boise we are leading the way in showing the rest of the country in how we can utilize it and utilize it effectively.”

Bieter said the city’s system is among the best in the world and a mark of pride for the city.

“It really just doesn’t get any better than this,” he said. “Boise State football has been a top 10 team in the nation. But our geothermal system is actually top 10 in the world, no offense to Coach Pete in that statement.”

City officials say the expansion will not tax the aquifer, which dropped steadily throughout the 1980s before stabilizing in the 1990s. The aquifer’s surface elevation has since recovered to levels seen in the early 1980s, rising about 30 feet since the city started re-injecting back into the aquifer starting in 1999, said Kent Johnson, project manager in Boise’s public works department.

John Tensen, city engineer, said a study by the Idaho Water Resources Research Institute in the late 1990s found that the system could pump in excess of 300 million gallons per year, compared to the current 190 million, as long as water was re-injected. He said there’s still plenty of room for expansion.

University officials say the new connection represents not only use of a clean, renewable, cost-efficient energy source but also a potential new resource for faculty and students.

Wendel Bigham, director of architectural and engineering services at the university, said science and engineering faculty have already expressed interest in pursuing new research on the system.

The university’s new College of Business and Economics building will also feature a demonstration area with a view into the geothermal part of the boiler room, he said.


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