Golden Gate owners hit rock bottom — for heating and cooling systems

The Golden Gate in downtown Las Vegas on Monday, July 9, 2012.

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Greg Stevens saw opportunity 475 feet below the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino.

That’s where the engineer and co-owner of the 107-year-old Fremont property decided to draw the heating and cooling power needed to keep beer and slush drinks cold at the casino’s OneBar. Beneath the building is the home of a closed-loop geothermal system.

“We use the huge chunk of rock below us,” said Stevens, who works behind the scenes with his brother Derek Stevens, the hotel operator.

Installed in 2009, the geothermal system uses 10 wells drilled deep into the Earth. Tubing runs vertically through the wells and connects to a heat pump, which has allowed Stevens to get rid of the grungy equipment he inherited from the property’s previous owners.

The system harnesses enough power to heat the showers of 106 hotel rooms and cools drinks in temperatures well above 100 degrees.

Geothermal systems typically rely on the presence of water or an anti-freeze substance in the tubing, which facilitates heat transfers underground. That’s where the temperature remains constant at about 68 degrees.

In winter, the liquid in the tubing absorbs heat from the ground and later delivers it to the system’s heat pump, which then pushes the heat through the building’s duct system. In summer, the system pulls heat from the building and runs it through the underground tubing loop, where the Earth’s temperature cools it down.

Geothermal technology has recently popped up in other parts of Southern Nevada, following a massive movement in Carson City and Reno. The Clark County School District uses geothermal systems at three of its trade schools, and the PBS building on East Flamingo Road has installed a system of its own.

Though geothermal systems are more expensive than traditional heating and cooling systems, Stevens said the property has already made up for the cash it dropped on a green initiative that includes a rare “Gen2” elevator that generates power as it goes down, reducing electrical usage by 40 percent.

“Most places want whatever’s cheaper today,” Stevens said.

In the long term, Stevens said the investment was worth it. The proof is in the cost of hot water bills, he said: "zero."

Tags: Business