Wahpeton boarding school the latest to use geothermal energy

Wahpeton, North Dakota (AP) 9-07

The Circle of Nations School is the latest to convert to geothermal energy, seeking to tap mild temperatures underground to help reduce energy costs.

The boarding school for American Indian students is drilling 390 holes to a depth of 150 feet or more so it can use geothermal energy to heat and cool 11 buildings. The price tag is approaching $2 million, but savings in fuel costs mean the system should be paid for in five years, said Robert Peck, the facility manager for the Circle of Nations School.

“The geothermal looked to be the best, the most efficient and environmentally friendly,” Peck said.

Geothermal heating-and-cooling systems, which work in tandem with highly efficient heat pumps, have become increasingly popular because of spiking natural gas and fuel oil costs, said Lorraine Manz, a geologist with the North Dakota Geological Survey, which issues drilling permits for the projects.

So far, the largest geothermal project in North Dakota is Discovery Middle School in Fargo, which has 688 wells. Kennedy Elementary School in Fargo has 288 wells, and Woodhaven Plaza, also in Fargo, has 144 wells.

The new Bank of North Dakota will be equipped to tap geothermal power. Homeowners also can use it. Geothermal systems qualify for renewable-energy tax credits in the state.

Geothermal loop systems circulate fluid through a layer of earth with temperatures consistently within a band of 48 degrees to 54 degrees.

“We’re not actually pulling steam out of the ground,” said Vincent Falk, of Ground Source Technology of Hankinson, which is installing the geothermal loops. “We’re pulling heat of the ground.”

Tapping those underground mild temperatures year-round means much less energy is expended to heat or cool a building. For every $1 in heating costs, for example, Falk estimates 70 cents goes to create the heat while 30 cents is to circulate the heat through fans and ducts.

Geothermal systems essentially wipe away the cost of heating or cooling the air, allowing for a savings of 70 percent in operating costs, Falk said.

“You become more energy independent,” said Marlin Galde, a consultant for the Circle of Nations School. “Your only real cost is electricity to run the pumps.”

Although upfront costs are higher for geothermal systems, they often pay off within five years, Falk said. Geothermal systems typically cost 30 percent to 40 percent more than conventional systems, he said.

John Robinson, an estimator and installer for Paschke Heating & Cooling in Fargo, said customers are showing increased interest in replacing conventional systems with geothermal units.

For a home with about 2,000 square feet, he estimated the cost of installing a loop field at about $5,000, with about $12,000 to $15,000 for a heat pump system. The cost would be less in homes that already have forced-air systems with ducts, Robinson said.

Information from: The Forum, http://www.in-forum.com