Casino in hot water
One of Reno’s greenest gambles is hidden in plain sight but paying off
The guy’s eyes light up like neon when he talks about the uses of geothermal water.
Dean Parker, executive director of facilities at Peppermill Resort Spa Casino, throws out engineering jargon and acronyms like a craps players tosses dice, but he gets his point across very well: The Peppermill gambled on geothermal and won big. And that gamble keeps paying off.
“We have the farthest, deepest well north of Steamboat,” he says. In fact, the Peppermill has a whole series of wells, nine to be exact, soon to be 10. At least one of the wells was drilled in the early ’80s. Those wells either pull hot water from the depths of the earth or put slightly cooler water back into the aquifer beneath the casino property.
Parker’s tour of the casino’s geothermal facility begins at a swimming pool that’s not currently heated with the Earth’s energy—chilly—but right next to it is a pool heated to a quite comfortable 92 degrees, and right next to that is a 102-degree spa. And then he gestures up at the new tower and offers a jaw-dropping statement: “100 percent of the domestic water in the Tuscany Tower is geothermal.”
And when the $4.5 million Well No. 8 comes fully online, 100 percent of the 2.2 million square foot Peppermill campus will be heated and partially cooled with green energy.
The Peppermill’s geothermal power works like this: A well was drilled into the hot rocks deep beneath the casino’s parking lots. No. 8, the deepest well, is 4,421 feet deep. The water it pulls up at 1,250 gallons per minute is 170 degrees. In what’s considered a closed loop—the water comes from the earth, through a series of pipes through boilers and heat exchangers and what have you, and then is pumped back into the earth—the water heats everything from rooms to bath water to swimming pools.
And while the Holy Grail would have been steam—water boils at 212 degrees, and steam can be used to generate electricity—an experiment the Peppermill conducted generated 270 kilowatts of power with 160-degree water. But 270 kilowatts is only a fraction of the electricity the casino uses.
Still, the potential of generating the hotel-casino’s juice aside, the savings generated by hot water is pretty amazing. “To be conservative—conservative—there’s $1.8 million in natural gas savings,” said Parker. “And once we get it dialed in …” he trails off, grinning, as the dollar signs appear to boggle his mind. “Except for a couple dish washers and laundry, we’ll be 100 percent off natural gas to heat the facility.” Compare that $1.8 million to the $8.1 million the casino has invested in green programs.
Winding through the labyrinthine bowels of the casino, following the hot water piping past boilers and heat exchangers and storage tanks and circulation pumps, Parker pauses in the high tech Central Plant, where a graphic interface shows to the tenth of a degree what’s happening where in the system. His co-worker Mike Colegrove, central plant manager, is every bit as excited about what their employer has done with the Earth-provided energy.
“Peppermill spent some money here, did it right,” says Colegrove. “It makes the property super efficient. … This plant is the envy of every private owner in Nevada.”