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Six months later, geothermal a success for all involved

June 4, 2014 by

Six months after activation of geothermal heating operated by the town of Lakeview, those involved are ecstatic with the success of the system.

Following the model implemented at the Warner Creek Correctional Facility, renewable energy has replaced the need for traditional heating uses, with hopes of further expanding throughout Lakeview.

Despite some early glitches and ongoing fine-tuning, the use of geothermal energy has not only added efficiencies to heating systems around Lake County School District #7 and Lake Health District, it is having a positive impact in the wallet as well.

Since activation on Dec. 17, 2013, LCSD#7 has not burned one drop of heating oil. According to Supt. Sean Gallagher, the district burned on average 55,000 gallons of diesel per year, costing $180,000. Exact savings are still being determined, but Gallagher predicts heating costs to be cut in half, allowing appropriation of funds to other needs. It also benefits air quality, removing 800 tons of carbon previously emitted annually through diesel use.

For Lake Health District the continued use of propane and electricity is just for backup contingencies, with Director of Plant Operations Stan Miller stating their monthly propane bill has been reduced from $30,000 to $4,000.

It’s a win for the Town as well, acting as the utility providers. Town Mgr. Ray Simms believes the project has already broken even and paying dividends through improved air quality and increased revenue, plus the potential for providing geothermal energy to additional businesses and possibly even residents.

Coming in $100,000 under initial budget estimates, the $3.7 million facility south of Lakeview incurred a net total cost to the Town of $2.6 million after grants and tax credits. A 40-year loan was established with fixed payments to cover the expense.

The modern system makes life easy on maintenance as well. Previously staff had to constantly monitor boilers and facilities checking vents to ensure consistent airflow, now systems are controlled through an iPad, while the Town is able to monitor real time use on the grid.

Utilizing an exploratory well drilled decades ago, hot water is pumped to facilities and re-injected back into the well in a closed loop system, with only the heat extracted.

It’s easy to see the cost savings. With gas prices ever-rising, geothermal heating costs come out to $14.90 per million BTUs with the loan built-in, compared to $25 for equivalent heating from propane or heating oil. After the loan is completed, geothermal costs are reduced to $5. At current rates gas prices would have to drop below $2.16 a gallon to match costs to LCSD#7 and LDH for geothermal heating.

With construction of a new Head Start facility planned in Lakeview, the Town intends to add it to the growing list of geothermal customers, with hopes of perhaps adding electrical generators or providing heat to residential customers to further increase profit margins. Over the course of the loan, 100-year lifespan of the facility and potential of additional wells, the savings for LCSD#7 and LDH and profits for the Town will be in the millions.

LCSD#7 and the Town see an even wider scope of possibility through geothermal, establishing Lakeview as a test model to be replicated across the country as both a viable economic and educational center. With the growth of the Innovation Learning Center, there is the potential in future years of providing vocational training in renewable energies, allowing students to complete training and walk right into a job in maintenance and construction of additional geothermal facilities.

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