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Mountain View Electric Association, Inc.

News

11/4/2010

Geothermal is Hot!


In this time of economic difficulty, many of us are looking for ways to save money on our utilities. This includes not only the homeowner, but also businesses and government entities. Heating and cooling has long been a major expense to all of us and something we strive to curtail through increased energy efficiency. Some have turned to renewable energy with the thought that the wind and sun are free sources of power; however, when we do the math, the cost of infrastructure may outweigh the savings.

A system that has come to the forefront, as both energy efficient and cost effective, is the geothermal heat pump. Geothermal heat pumps use the constant temperature of the earth to exchange heat. According to Energy Star, they are the most environmentally safe and efficient heating and cooling option available.  Rather than using underground heat, geothermal heat pumps capitalize on the steady temperature of the ground or deep water wells. In effect, they treat the earth like a giant energy savings bank, depositing or withdrawing heat depending on the time of year. During the summer, the systems pump indoor heat underground and draw on the lower temperatures of the earth to cool a building. In colder months, the same process works in reverse, with heat from the ground being used to warm indoor air. However, they are more costly to install than conventional systems. Much of this cost is the drilling fees. But that investment can be recouped in five to ten years, according to consumerenergycenter.org, and we have witnessed this first-hand at MVEA.

Several area schools and public buildings have opted for the geothermal system. As we reported last year, the new Palmer Ridge High School in Monument installed the largest geothermal system in the state. The decision to use this type of system was made after the District 39 administration building had been retrofitted and proved to be very successful in cost savings. Other schools have followed suit. Calhan School recently completed their retrofit to geothermal and Miami-Yoder School is in the process of starting their project. The new Falcon Public Library decided on a geothermal system for their new facility which is opening on September 19. And, of course, the new MVEA Falcon Operations Center is heated and cooled by geothermal.

As you can see from this list of facilities, it is not only a new building that can benefit. Miami-Yoder and Calhan schools are older buildings. What makes it even more attractive to purchasing this type of system is the energy efficiency credits paid to help offset the cost. Both MVEA and Tri-State G&T, MVEA’s power supplier, pay rebates according to the size of the project. In the case of Calhan School, administrators also worked on getting grants to help defray the cost.

Calhan School, in their quest for energy efficiency, also did a retrofit of their lighting. Even their gym was refitted with T-5 fluorescent bulbs covered by wire guards. These lights come on instantly compared to the old halogen bulbs that took so long to warm up that the game could be over by the time they came on! A little exaggeration. The new lights allow different areas of the gym to be lit and are much more energy efficient and bright. The school also received energy efficiency credits from MVEA and Tri-State to offset this portion of their project.

MVEA currently has 50 geothermal systems installed in residences throughout our system. Recent surveys from consumerenergycenter.org have found that homeowners using geothermal heat pumps rate them highly when compared to conventional systems. Figures indicate that more than 95 percent of all geothermal heat pump owners would recommend a similar system to their friends and family.

If you are interested in installing a geothermal system, be sure to do your homework. Even though heat pumps and geothermal space conditioning has been around for a while, it is still considered a new market and as such, there are not nearly enough contractors and engineers who are experts in this field. At MVEA’s website at www.mvea.org, you can review what rebates are available and see if this is a cost effective alternative for you.


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