Editor’s note: This is a very interesting concept. I wonder if this might work in Indiana. Is anyone interested into looking at this? Let me know. Laura Ann Arnold
The News Herald (thenewsherald.com), The Voice of Downriver
Saturday, December 4, 2010
By Jim Kasuba
WYANDOTTE, MI — The city has broken ground — literally and figuratively — on the area’s first geothermal utility.
But unlike a ceremonial groundbreaking that involves politicians digging a few inches into the topsoil with fancy shovels, the work recently wrapped up at Lindbergh and Alkali involved going a bit deeper, about 600 feet or so.
City Engineer Mark Kowalewski said the geothermal project is believed to be the first for residential customers in this part of the state.
Advanced Energy Group of Ann Arbor is involved in the joint venture.
“We received a (Neighborhood Stabilization Program Grant) for $560,000,” Kowalewski said. “Every city had some money allocated as part of a Community Development Block Grant formula.”
Wyandotte decided to use its grant money for this relatively small project, which includes two houses the city is rehabilitating, one on Lindbergh and the other on Lincoln.
But that’s just the beginning of what is expected to become a growing project.
This summer, the City Council approved the creation of a geothermal utility, although it’s likely to take several years for it to become readily available and financially feasible for most residents.
A geothermal utility works by circulating water through pipes buried deep in the ground, where temperatures are a constant 54 to 56 degrees. The water is either heated or cooled to a desired temperature, depending on whether it’s winter or summer.
“In the summer, instead of trying to cool down with 80-degree air, you are cooling with 50 degree-water,” said Melanie McCoy, general manager of Wyandotte Municipal Services. “The opposite is true in the winter. The system uses water as its mechanism instead of air, which offers better heat transfer.”
McCoy said there are many reasons to be excited about geothermal energy, among them its heating and cooling efficiency and affordability after start-up costs.
Another benefit, McCoy said, is that geothermal helps Wyandotte Municipal Services improve the operation of the electric system and reduce power supply costs. The other benefit is to the environment.
“According to the Department of Energy and the (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), geothermal systems are the most environmentally friendly to heat and cool your home,” McCoy said. “They emit no CO2, CO or other greenhouse gases. Geothermal energy has been used to heat and cool for decades, but not provided as a utility service.”
McCoy said each house requires 1 1/2 wells, each containing plastic pipe, 5 inches in diameter, with water going up one side and down the other. Using the dirt around it as a heat transfer, water is recirculated in a closed loop.
In such a system, a geothermal heat pump, powered by electricity, takes the place of a furnace or air conditioning unit.
Wyandotte Municipal Services is partnering with Hardin Geothermal to develop the well fields and assist in connecting to customers.
As part of $7.8 million in federal stimulus money the city was awarded earlier this year in NSP2 funds, officials are expected to either rehabilitate or build more than 40 houses for low- to moderate-income families. City officials see this as an ideal opportunity to utilize geothermal energy in these houses.
The city also is expected to use geothermal energy to heat and cool Bacon Memorial District Library and the Wyandotte Museum, among other public buildings.
One of the downsides of geothermal systems is the startup cost. McCoy estimated that an average heat pump costs about $12,000, which is considerably more expensive than a furnace or air-conditioning unit. The other expense is the wells, which cost about $8,000.
However, the federal government is offering consumers a 30 percent tax credit on the cost of a geothermal pump through 2016, which makes the system more affordable.
McCoy said tentative plans call for Municipal Services not charging $8,000 for each well, but instead charging a monthly fee.
Kowalewski added that more savings can be realized when wells are shared, as four houses can utilize three wells.
“That’s when it makes sense,” the city engineer said. “We will be the first municipality with geothermal, but why not? We are used to being first.”
Contact Staff Writer Jim Kasuba at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-734-246-0881