Going green: Peppermill draws geothermal heat from deep beneath its footprint | nnbusinessview.com

Going green: Peppermill draws geothermal heat from deep beneath its footprint

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.

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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.

Hotel’s soap recycling helps people clean up

Although geothermal is the most significant aspect of the Peppermill’s sustainability initiatives, it’s not the only one.

Along with many other hotels and motels, the Peppermill encourages its guests to reuse sheets and towels. What they do extra is offer a $5 rebate on the hotel bill for customers who opt out of receiving fresh linens daily.

“Even if 10 percent opt out on a given day, then we’re using a lot less chemicals and energy,” Peppermill Director of Service Excellence Dave Fuller told the NNBW.

And what about all the soap and shampoo left when a guest checks out of one of the Peppermill’s 1,621 rooms?

“It all gets deposited in boxes and is sent to Florida to Clean the World headquarters,” Fuller said, pointing to a box big enough to fit a home washing machine that was nearly full of bars of soap and shampoo containers. “We pay for shipping.”

Clean the World melts down the soap to sterilize it then reconstitutes it into their bars, Fuller explained.

Those newly remade soap bars along with hygiene kits created from the unopened shampoo and lotion bottles are then sent to areas hit by natural disasters or Third World countries.

Since 2009, the efforts of Clean the World have reduced the rate of pre-adolescent deaths from hygiene-related illnesses by 30 percent.

The Peppermill has been shipping its soaps to Clean the World for three years.

So far in 2017, the Peppermill has collected and shipped 890 pounds of soap that would have been discarded. Clean the World has distributed 2,373 soap bars. And 334 pounds of plastic containers have been recycled.

Besides the satisfaction of reducing waste, the program has some fringe benefits.

Many organizations will only hold conventions in places with soap recycling, Fuller said.

Besides the shipping costs, collecting the soaps instead of tossing them adds time and labor costs.

“We’ve been doing it for three years,” Fuller said. “No one (from the Peppermill) has come to me and said it was too expensive.”