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Going Green: Peppermill Draws Geothermal Heat from Deep Beneath its Footprint

Sally Roberts | October 23, 2017
Northern Nevada Business Weekly

The Peppermill Resort Spa Casino has an advantage most properties lack, which has put it on the leading edge of the sustainability movement.

The casino-resort south of downtown Reno sits over a hot water aquifer.

The owners of the Peppermill, led by the Paganetti family, first tapped into the aquifer in the 1980s to help heat the facility.

"It wasn't like (the extent) we're doing right now, but it was the start of it," said Terrence Spampanato, the vice president-division manager of Pacific Mountain Contractors, which contracts with the Peppermill to manage the geothermal system.

The geothermal wells provide most of the heat for the resort, which has grown from a humble coffee shop a half-century ago into one of Northern Nevada's most successful gaming properties. That includes heating the water for the swimming pool, laundry and plumbing, as well as room heating.

That's a lot of heat for the sprawling resort that encompasses 1,621 guest rooms, a three-story, 33,000-square-foot spa, 9,900-square-foot fitness center and 82,000-square-foot casino and race & sports book. 

The Peppermill is the only resort of its kind in the United States whose heating source is completely provided by geothermal energy produced on the immediate property. Last year, the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) gave the resort special recognition for its efforts.

"We've put a lot of time and effort into the Peppermill's eco-friendly advances, and we're honored to be recognized for our commitment to renewable energy," Billy Paganetti, general manager of the Peppermill, said following the GEA recognition. "We look forward to sharing this award with the team members who made it possible and will continue to explore and implement efficient sustainable energy options."

In a warehouse north of the hotel, four giant boilers sit mostly idle. The geothermal heat exchangers occupy a fraction of the space.

In the past, the Peppermill operated two boilers all the time — the extra two were for redundancy.

Now, "on the coldest days of the year, we turn on one boiler a trickle," Spampanato said during a tour of the facility.

John Kassai, the Peppermill's central plant manager, called the geothermal system "the heart of the Peppermill."

Geothermal heat is a simple concept that humans have been using for thousands of years, Spampanato said.

At the Peppermill, it took drilling 4,000 feet into the ground to tap into the hot water aquifer. There, the water temperature is about 170 degrees, Spampanato said.

The hot water is pumped up and goes through a series of heat exchangers where the heat from the geothermal well is captured and put to use. The water cools to a still-hot 125 degrees and is pumped back into the aquifer as far from where it's extracted as the Peppermill property allows.

"It's a closed loop," Spampanato said. The water from the geothermal aquifer never actually leaves the pipes.

Operating the boilers used to cost the Peppermill $2 million a year in natural gas, he said. "So we're saving about $2 million a year to produce all the heat in the buildings."

Other costs, such as maintenance, are about the same.

Besides saving money, use of the geothermal system also reduces the Peppermill's carbon footprint. Retiring the boilers means there are no emissions released into the atmosphere from burning the natural gas.

Original Article