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Steamed About Energy

Geothermal Heat Pump Backers Want Into the Energy Bill

Dan Ellis, president of Oklahoma-based ClimateMaster Inc., doesn’t want his little-known industry left out when it comes to energy legislation.

So, Ellis — along with his colleagues in the formerly Washington, D.C.-shy geothermal heat pump sector — has embarked on an intensive lobbying effort in recent weeks to push Congress to include tax incentives and other measures to promote their business in the energy bill.

“I should’ve been there earlier,” Ellis said. “Our industry is not very good at working the Washington side of things. We kind of woke up and said, ‘We’ve gotta go out there. We have, like, an answer that really solves a lot of the problems. We better get out there and start telling our story.’”

Ellis’ geothermal heat pump effort offers a glimpse into how myriad alternative energy industries are trying to find opportunities in the hotly debated Congressional effort to tackle global warming and reduce reliance on foreign fuels. For their part, geothermal pump advocates say they are trying to get their industry the same recognition as solar and wind alternatives.

And perhaps their work is paying off. On Friday, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced a bill that would establish a geothermal heat pump technology acceleration program to encourage the federal government to use the pumps to heat and cool its buildings.

“My home state of Oklahoma has long been an energy leader for our country,” Inhofe said in a statement. “I am proud of Oklahoma companies like ClimateMaster that are developing promising technologies, such as geothermal heat pumps, that could substantially reduce energy demands and pollution from the operation of federal buildings.”

Unlike geothermal power plants, which drill down into the Earth’s core as much as 20 miles and draw on the earth’s heat to create energy, geothermal heat pumps are individual systems that can heat and cool homes or commercial buildings. While gas and propane furnaces, for example, must burn fuel to heat a home, geothermal heat pumps use the Earth’s natural heat, which is collected through a series of fluid-filled, looped pipes installed several feet underground. In the summer, the process works like a refrigerator; instead of cooling the home with cold air, the hot air from the house is sucked out and expelled through the pipes back into the ground.

Jack DiEnna, executive director of the D.C.-based Geothermal Heat Pump National & International Initiative, said geothermal heat pumps help increase U.S. energy independence because they reduce the need for foreign fuel. They also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the use of water, he said.

DiEnna added that he is lobbying on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) energy proposal to get geothermal heat pumps specifically included as renewable energy sources. “What Sen. Reid’s bill addresses is geothermal energy and production, and I want it to include geothermal heat pumps,” he said.

He said Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) have expressed an interest in the heat pump technology and several sources said Inhofe’s stand-alone bill is expected to be incorporated as an amendment to the energy bill, perhaps this week, and could be co-sponsored by Clinton.

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