July 8, 2008

Deer Creek Tries Out Geothermal Energy

By Patty Miller, The Edmond Sun, Okla.

Jul. 8--With summer weather comes the promise of high temperatures and even higher energy bills, especially in Oklahoma.

For a growing number of schools those bills won't be as foreboding thanks to their use of geothermal heating and air conditioning technology.

"As of this time there are 17 school districts across the state and three college campuses using geothermal heat pump technology," said Michael Bass, president of Bass Energy Inc.

Bass said the Putnam City School District is leading the way with all or parts of seven schools with three more under design or construction utilizing thermal heat pump technology.

Other school districts include Oakdale, Shawnee, Weatherford, Ardmore, Pauls Valley and Western Heights schools

Deer Creek Public Schools followed suit recently passing a vote to use geothermal technology in a new addition for Deer Creek Elementary School.

"While it is initially just about double the cost, the savings that other districts are seeing on the back side is substantial," said Rebecca Wilkinson, superintendent of Deer Creek Public Schools.

Deer Creek school board members agreed to try geothermal heating and cooling in the additions to see if it works on a smaller scale before using it in an entire building.

Board members agreed to finance the $180,000 to $200,000 project through the mechanical and engineering firm of Bass and Associates Inc. and pay it back over time. School board President Jim Benson said the district will pay back the money from interest earnings on existing or future bond funds.

"I like the idea because by paying for the geothermal system over time, the district can use more of its MAPS for Kids money to build additional classrooms," said board member John Robertson.

Deer Creek's Director of Operations Dick Vrooman said the reason they supported geothermal heat and air was the low operating cost.

"The initial cost is about twice as much as the conventional heating and air system. Our cost for an eight-classroom addition will be (about) $175,000," Vrooman said.

"It will take the district three to seven years to recover the initial cost, but the maintenance and upkeep is extremely cost effective."

Climate Master is doing its best to introduce geothermal heating and cooling systems to Oklahoma schools. It is the largest manufacturer of this technology in the world and is based in south Oklahoma City.

Geothermal energy has been a viable power source since the 1980s, but a lack of public awareness as well as the initial cost has kept it from being used in homes as well as businesses, Bass said.

"We are going to explore putting in a geothermal system prior to building our next school," said Bret Towne, director of operations for Edmond Public Schools.

Towne said one reason they haven't used the technology in the past is because of the soil structure in Edmond with a lot of it being rock.

"We are going to look at it to see if we can have some kind of energy savings," Towne said. "It costs more upfront and we are going to have to see how much it costs over the life cycle as well as see how much savings you can glean from it.

"The next two elementaries will be build in the northwest part of Edmond basically on old farmland which might make it possible to use geo thermal technology," Towne said.

Towne said he believed there is a lot more upkeep and maintenance, which would have to weigh against the energy costs to see how much can be saved.

Bridgette Oliver with Climate Master said cost savings over boiler systems is about 42 percent, the maintenance is low and upkeep is extremely cost effective.

Bob Corff, Edmond Electric's energy services manager, said most geothermal systems are installed for the expected cost savings, but in addition to being more efficient, the comfort level is high, the ground loop cannot be seen and the systems tend to keep temperatures constant with little background noise. Edmond Electric's buildings use geothermal heating and cooling.

"At 10 feet the ground temperature is 61 degrees," Corff said, "and the equipment is extremely efficient with a SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Regional) of 27, more than twice as efficient as an air conditioner with a SEER of 13."

Corff said a geothermal system leaves moisture in the air in the winter and takes moisture out of the air in the summer.

The technology has been around since the 1940s, but energy has been cheap and there hasn't been a need to search out other technology.

"All of the school districts in Texas are using this technology," Corff said.


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