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October 23, 2014

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Location of geothermal plant in BC gets planners’ OK

A 250-megawatt geothermic power plant proposed in Boulder City on the south end of town near the Western Area Power Administration substation cleared another hurdle Wednesday when the Planning Commission approved the city-owned site for the plant’s use.

The vote was 5-2, with Planning Commissioners Cokie Booth and Paul Matuska opposed.

Geothermic Solution LLC still has many more hurdles to cross before it can begin construction on the 25-acre parcel south of Buchanan Boulevard, which is about three-quarters of a mile from the nearest homes.

Because Geothermic Solution is proposing to lease the land from the city, the parcel has to be included in the city’s Land Management Plan. The City Council approved the use in concept March 10 and sent it to the Planning Commission to determine whether the use is appropriate for the site.

Geothermic Solution Executive Vice President Kirk Harrison told commissioners that the $500 million project would be unlike most power plants. It would require no cooling towers and have no steam above ground. The heat harvesting system would be completely below ground, and all that would be on the surface is an unobtrusive two-story building, he said.

The closed-loop liquid system would use little water, produce no smell and have no above-ground transmission lines. A connection to the WAPA substation to send the electricity into the grid would be underground, Harrison said.

It would be the Las Vegas-based company’s first plant, but Geothermic Solution plans to build many more, possibly in the middle of urban areas, he said.

Several residents in the neighborhoods near Buchanan Boulevard and Georgia Avenue said they love the idea but not the location. They asked why the plant could not be moved to the Eldorado Valley near two existing solar plants. There is a third solar plant in the works in that area.

The problem, city planner Susan Danielewicz said, is that the city charter restricts uses on the Eldorado Valley land, and those uses do not include geothermal power, only solar. A question on the June ballot seeks to change the charter to include geothermal, but it must be passed by voters in two consecutive elections to become law.

Gary Compton, who lives on Georgia Avenue, said the area south of Buchanan is currently used by neighbors to walk their dogs, ride horses and drive all-terrain vehicles.

“It’s predominantly a recreation use by a wide variety of people,” he said. “For Georgia residents, that’s their solitude.”

Jayne Harkins, who lives on Broadmoor, noted that the road to the WAPA substation is “one gully wash rain from being lost” and the road and water line might need to be replaced with heavier use.

“The city has acres and acres of vacant land that can be used,” Harkins said.

Booth said she would like to see the project moved into the energy zone, but Commissioner Brad Benson, in moving to recommend the use, noted that houses, at three-quarters of a mile away, are far from the project.

Commissioner Bill Bruninga said the infrastructure to the geothermal plant is much less than that for solar or fossil fuel power and would make a “minor impact.”

The City Council will consider the Planning Commission’s recommendation in May.

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