Experts from the Idaho National Laboratory will help the City of Driggs and Teton Valley Aquatics by analyzing previously collected data to determine whether there is a geothermal energy source near Driggs.

The INL technical assistance program is one facet of the lab’s community outreach strategy. Scientists and engineers from INL provide up to 40 hours of free assistance to businesses, nonprofits, and local governments in areas that require technical expertise or analysis.

Driggs and TVA applied for assistance in analyzing information that was compiled by gas and oil companies from exploratory drilling that happened in Teton Valley in the 1970s. The goal is to verify the existence of a geothermal energy source in or near Driggs, where TVA hopes eventually to build an aquatic facility.

“INL is highly involved in many large scale geothermal projects in Idaho and across the Intermountain West,” TVA executive director Katie McNamara said.

Both McNamara and TVA board member Dick Weinbrandt have degrees in petroleum geology, and Weinbrandt also has over 35 years of petroleum industry experience, but McNamara explained that it was important to have INL experts lay eyes on the data and provide a report of viability. Beyond that report, she added, TVA will probably enlist an additional party to validate those results.

“That’s just good science,” McNamara said. “We owe it to the public to do our due diligence.”

The operating cost of a pool and recreation facility would be lower if TVA were able to harness geothermal energy, but McNamara said that’s not the only benefit.

“We are seeking to better understand the potential geothermal resource and how we can leverage this resource to both add value for our community and visitors and to ensure the sustainability and resiliency of the facility,” she explained.

Driggs community development director Doug Self said there are numerous applications for geothermal energy; the water pressure could generate electricity, the heat of the water could solve Driggs’ wastewater treatment facility woes, geothermal greenhouses could enable year-round agriculture, and hot water flowing under parking lots could melt snow, along with other seemingly miraculous benefits. Self said he’s cautiously optimistic about the existence of a geothermal resource in Driggs. It’s the permitting and logistics of accessing it that are complicated.

According to the technical assistance agreement with INL, the free analysis should be finished by the beginning of September.

In the meantime, TVA is evaluating possible facilities that don’t incorporate geothermal energy.

“We can’t hang our hat on the resource being available,” McNamara said.

TVA will soon begin its roll out of a facility feasibility study that has been a year and a half in the making. VCBO Architects was awarded the $30,000 contract (split between TVA and the city) last February to analyze public input, design several facility concepts, and provide construction costs and timelines for each. After presenting the study to the Driggs City Council, TVA will announce a public meeting to review the results within the next few weeks.

“We always welcome public questions or comments,” McNamara said.

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