Rico is blessed with geothermal resources, but tapping into the underground hot water resource for commercial purposes within town is easier said than done, and costly.
The Colorado School of Mines recently completed a preliminary study of Rico’s geothermal resources and presented three potential development options during a town meeting Aug. 25.
“People always speculate on how much something like a small hot-spring spa would cost,” said Rico mayor pro tem Barbara Betts. “This study is a more thorough analysis of those estimations.”
Paul Morgan, senior geologist and geophysicist for the college, reported that surface hot springs in the Rico area have low toxic elements, and have temperatures ranging between 93 and 111 degrees Fahrenheit.
“It’s pretty clean water,” he said. “Finding its source would require a much larger study.”
Becky Lafrancois, School of Mines economics professor and co-author of the study, evaluated the business potential for a small hot-springs spa, commercial-grade geothermal greenhouse, and district-level heating of buildings.
A spa of the decadeA developed soaking tub or pool that could hold 15 to 20 people, plus a 1,000-square-foot building, was estimated to cost $630,985 to construct.
Major costs are $100,000 for land, $320,000 for injection well and ground facilities, and $150,000 for the building that would include showers and changing rooms.
Estimated yearly operating costs for the spa came in at $173,976. Labor costs (four workers at $15 per hour) was estimated at $139,776, and administration, maintenance, supplies, and utilities was expected to cost $34,200.
The study showed that the spa could break even in 10 years if it charged the Colorado average admission of $17 and attracted an average of 38 customers per day each year.
“A smaller hot springs development in town may be a possibility,” Lafrancois said.
A $6.42 head of lettuce?These greenhouses tap into geothermal sources to heat the building enough to grow food year-round. The study used growing lettuce as an example product because of its short growing season.
Startup costs for a 1,440-square-foot commercial, hydroponic greenhouse came in $513,000. The price includes $100,000 for the land, $320,000 for geothermal injection wells and ground facilities, and $93,000 for the greenhouse, foundation, equipment and utilities.
Operating costs came in at $320,778 per year, including $260,000 in wages for five workers at $25 per hour, according to the study example.
The break-even and profitability predictions for growing lettuce garnered some chuckles from the audience.
The study estimated that such a facility could generate 50,000 heads of lettuce per year. But even at $5 per head, there would be an annual loss of $70,778.
Lafrancois said “$6.42 per head would cover annual operating costs, but not cover initial investment.”
Profitable heating in 182 years Geothermal water could also be tapped and piped to buildings in Rico through heat exchangers or radiators. But its high costs and marginal savings were not seen as very practical.
As an example, the study analyzed what it would take to heat 10,722 square feet at the Burley Building on Glasgow Avenue in Rico.
Estimated startup costs of $729,526 include the land, injection wells, mechanical and distribution system, and retrofitting the building.
The geothermal heat would save the building $4,000 per year in heating bills. Annual operating costs were estimated at $8,000 per year.
“At that rate, it would be 182.5 years to recoup the total development costs,” Lafrancois said, and 35 years to recoup the building retrofit costs.
Rico Resident Florence Ezell was cautiously optimistic about geothermal potential.
“It’s a fabulous opportunity,” she said. “I first thought a greenhouse would be a good idea, but I learned it’s too expensive. A small hot springs seems the most feasible but only if it were simple and not some large resort.”