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Geothermal in public buildings

by Susan Simons

HUERFANO- When the Journal ran a series of articles about Tri-State Generation and Transmission and their proposal to construct a transmission line through the County, Tri-State public relations requested that Journal staff research Tri-State involvement in renewable energy projects around the state and region.  Following is the second of a series of articles on this topic.

    The largest geothermal heating and cooling system in Colorado is in Palmer Ridge High School which opened its new building August 2008 in Monument, Colorado.  Tri-State Transmisson and Mountain View Electric Cooperative provided more than $190,000 in incentives and rebates to the school district to reward their choice of this energy efficient system.

    The school is saving about 50% on energy costs compared to the other high schools in the district.  It also saved over $200,000 in construction costs compared to the cost of a conventional heating and cooling system. The 217,000-square-foot school has 200 loops (wells) bored 400 feet deep.  An electric pump draws water through the loops and through the school, providing heat in the winter and cooling in the summer from the stable temperature of the earth which is around 55 degrees.

    In Deming, New Mexico, two elementary schools have also recently installed geothermal systems: Ruben S. Torres Elementary and Columbus Elementary.  The rural electric co-op there is Columbus Electric Cooperative and its power supplier is Tri-State.  Together they gave $78,000 in incentives for the school districts’ “commitment to energy efficiency.”

    Closer to home, our own Spanish Peaks Library, which has recently renovated the former Walsenburg Middle School building, installed a geothermal system.  The library board was as interested in energy efficiency as they were in historic preservation.   According to Monica Birrer, Director of Spanish Peaks Library District, it was a lucky break when someone suggested she contact Bruce Cantrell, retired CEO and Board Chairman of Energy Control, Inc. of Albuquerque, NM.  Cantrell and his company donated the design and $500,000 toward the ground source heat recovery system

    Under the parking lot are 30 vertical wells sunk 300 feet down with interconnected tubes encased in clay.

    The building was constructed in the 1920’s with an old steam radiator system.  As a result, Cantrell stated, it was a challenge to figure out how to get the pipes and duct work fitted in to the building.  However, the new system worked the first day, cooling the library this summer with water pumped through the system cooled by the constant temperature of the earth.  A special feature is the Direct Digital Control System.  Each of 13 rooms has its own heat pump and thermostat which report back over the Internet to a central control in the Library Director’s office and in Cantrell’s La Veta office as well.  At a glance, Birrer or Cantrell can analyze what is happening in the system and adjust the temperature at any given location.  This substantially cuts energy costs and maintenance costs.  San Isabel Electric Association participated in discussions about energy efficiency for the renovation and Tri-State gave a rebate of $3900 for this project based on $150 per ton for their 26-ton heat pump system.