Hopes rise for geothermal revival

AN ABANDONED geothermal hot water network in the heart of Portland could be brought back to life. 

Glenelg Shire and Wannon Water will meet this month for the first talks aimed at kick-starting the unique system that once heated public buildings across the city.

A closed water bore fenced off in the corner of Henty Park once pumped super-heated water to the surface, which was circulated by pipes throughout the city centre heating the hospital, hotels and council buildings. 

The system had been in operation in the city since the early 1980s but was shut down in 2006 after engineers found it was on the brink of collapse. 

Glenelg Shire has been handed a new report on upgrading the existing pipe network — which now carries gas-heated water. That has triggered hopes of reinstating the geothermal system. 

Glenelg Shire chief executive officer Sharon Kelsey told The Standard the council was yet to decide if it would proceed with the plans. 

A question mark remains over what it would cost to recommission the geothermal network. 

“At this point I couldn’t say ... It’s going to be a long-term commitment,” Ms Kelsey said.

“There’s great support for geothermal in the community. There’s been advances in technology but we need to make sure the numbers add up.”

The council’s two main options would be to use the previous bore at Henty Park or two other active Wannon Water bores at Bald Hill near the Portland Aluminium Smelter. 

“I think we’d be exploring all those options. They’re very preliminary discussions,” Ms Kelsey said. 

Other geothermal projects in the south-west have received government support under renewable energy funding. 

“We will look into those. It depends what opportunities are available with the state and federal governments,” she said. 

The geothermal water comes out of the ground at 60 degrees and needs to be cooled before being circulated through the system. 

Wannon Water chief executive Grant Green said there would be “significant costs” to use the  bores at Bald Hill. 

“There would have to be a pipeline constructed linking up with the coil in the public buildings,” Mr Green said. 

He said Wannon Water “took some flak” on its decision to close the bore — but insisted it was the only option. 

“It would have erupted and you would have had a geyser in the middle of Portland,” Mr Green said.

Glenelg Shire owns the infrastructure but would need support from either business or government to bring the network back to life.

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