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Green Spark 6: Go Geothermal.
Father Joji Itukulapati at St. Thomas Catholic Church. Photo by Garrick Moritz.

Green Spark 6: Go Geothermal.

Father Joji Itukulapati at St. Thomas Catholic Church. Photo by Garrick Moritz.

Many Buildings in Faulkton and Groton Use Geothermal Heating and Cooling, and Organizations are Enjoying the Savings

By Garrick Moritz, Faulk County Record, and Paul Kosel, Groton Daily Independent

We can’t change the fact that Dakota winters get pretty cold, and Dakota summers get pretty hot.

But deep underground, the temperature stays the same: about 45 degrees.

This is the key to how a geothermal heating/cooling system works.

Three elements are needed for a geothermal system: a ground loop (a system of fluid-filled pipe buried down past the frost line under the ground), a heat pump (something that extracts heat from the fluid in the pipes) and a delivery system. The delivery system can either be conventional ductwork, if the system heats air, or another system of pipes, which circulate water through the building and release the heat that way.

And what’s wicked cool, pun intended, is that all that needs to be done to cool the building is to reverse the process.

Home- or businessowners can expect to pay two, three or even four times the initial startup costs for installation of a geothermal heating/cooling system than what they might pay for a natural gas/propane system. But case after case has shown that the initial high costs have been worth it.

USDA Service Center

Sandy Bowar at the USDA Service Center. Photo by Garrick Moritz.

Sandy Bowar at the USDA Service Center. Photo by Garrick Moritz.

In 2005 the Farm Service Agency and the Faulk County Conservation District moved into a new building designed as a catchall center for these Department of Agriculture offices. When this government building was designed, a geothermal heating/cooling system was part of the plan.

“We were the first, though I don’t think a lot of people realized it at the time,” said executive secretary Sandy Bowar. “The heat is nice and even throughout the building, and the ‘air conditioning’ keeps us nice and cool… You can set the thermostat to different settings in different parts of the building as well. Our computer room, for example, we need to keep cooler… We can keep it cold in there without affecting the rest of the offices in the building. We almost never touch the thermostat, even from summer towinter—set it to what we want and the machine does the rest.”

St. Thomas Catholic Church

In 2006, St. Thomas Catholic Church was the first building in Faulkton to be retrofitted for geothermal heating/cooling. That’s right, retrofitted. The modular nature of the system means that most existing structures can be converted.

“Our parish has been very, very satisfied with the geothermal apparatus,” said Father Joji Itukulapati. “In the past, parts of the building were very warm and other parts were very cold. Now it is all very even, one temperature throughout, whatever we tell it to be. Every winter we have saved money and the savings have totaled somewhere between $8,000 and $10,000 since it was installed. It’s been a good long-term investment for our parish, and we have been able concentrate on other building projects, such as remodeling the kitchen.”

Father Joji said that the project got a lot of attention, both locally and regionally.

“After we made the change to geothermal, several others did as well locally, and not just places here in Faulkton. Parishes in Hoven and Aberdeen came to look at our machines and eventually did projects similar to ours. In Faulkton, too, both the hospital and the courthouse followed our example. I like to think that we were a positive influence throughout the area.”

Groton Area School District

The Groton Area School District added on to the high school building in 2009.

“The district decided to go with geothermal because it was projected that we would be recapturing our heating
costs back in savings in 7-10 years,” said Superintendent Laura Schuster. “We also had the area needed to drill the geothermal wells.” The area used was the old skating rink, which is now the school parking lot.

Thirty-six wells were drilled.

“I believe we are currently using 28-30 of them,” Schuster said. “Extra wells were drilled in case any go bad, which can happen.” They also have some room to expand the system, she said.

Measuring the savings is difficult because they also added on to the building, she said, but she said she’d recommend looking at geothermal for any future projects.

Faulkton Area Medical Center

Jay Jahnig at the Faulkton Area Medical Center. Photo by Garrick Moritz.

Jay Jahnig at the Faulkton Area Medical Center. Photo by Garrick Moritz.

In 2007 the old Faulkton Memorial Hospital closed its doors and became the new Faulkton Area Medical Center in a whole new complex. That complex was designed with a geothermal heating system in place.

“The ‘central air’ system only requires a fan to bring the cold air to the various parts of the building,” said Jay Jahnig, FAMC Administrator. “The AC is almost free and the heating is more efficient than anything I’ve experienced before. In the summer, it’s almost too cold!”

Jahing also mentioned that the hospital’s maintenance chief Tom Waldner is also a big fan of geothermal, so much so that he had it installed his own home. Waldner said he got a deal he couldn’t pass up and even did some of the installation work himself with a borrowed backhoe.

“There is just no comparison to a gas or propane heater,” he said. “It’s way out of their league. My own home is heated for less than a dollar a day. I honestly don’t know why anybody would do anything else. I suppose I can understand why people might be put off by the higher cost of installation, but if you are building a new home, there is no reason not to spend the extra few thousand to get it installed. It’s a no brainer.”

Tom Waldner at the Faulkton Area Medical Center. Photo by Garrick Moritz.

Tom Waldner at the Faulkton Area Medical Center. Photo by Garrick Moritz.

Waldner said that it’s all humid air as well, not the dry air you’d get from a gas rig, which means fewer bloody noses and static charge on the carpet. Waldner said the systems are low maintenance, and they are green enough to get a tax break.

“I just set it to 75 and forget about it,” Waldner said. “Sometimes there will be a fault or a reset, or something that has to be adjusted, but then nothing’s perfect. Ultimately, it’s a really good system.”

Faulk County Courthouse

Jason Ferguson at the Faulk County Courthouse. Photo by Garrick Moritz.

Jason Ferguson at the Faulk County Courthouse. Photo by Garrick Moritz.

“It works great, and it’s as green as Kermit the Frog,” said Jason Ferguson, maintenance officer at the Faulk County Courthouse.

“Work for our project started back in the summer of 2010… The geothermal heating and cooling system serves both the County Courthouse and the Sheriff’s Office and County Jail, and it’s located in what used to be the old boiler room of the jail. The total cost of the project was about $700,000, but the county commissioners received grant money for about half that cost. I’d say it’s saved the county thousands of dollars. The system does a really good job, with a thermostat for every office to control just how hot or cold they want it anytime during the year.”

Paetznick-Garness Funeral Chapel and Groton homes

Andrea Snoozy Bahr of Paetznick-Garness Funeral Chapel in Groton recently tore down the old building and is in the process of putting up a new funeral home.

“I went with geo because of the cost to heat/cool a building of that size (close to 9,000 square feet),” Bahr said. “I have 13 wells and three units along with a backup furnace.”

A number of homes in Groton have recently converted to geothermal. According to David McGannon of McGannon Plumbing, Heating and Cooling in Groton, geothermal equipment has improved a lot over the past 10 years.

“The compressor units can be housed inside and don’t have to be exposed to the outside elements,” McGannon said, and added that on average, geothermal is 350 percent efficient. “For every dollar spent, you’re getting $3.50 worth of heating and cooling.”

Some electric companies offer reduced prices for geothermal. In Groton, a geothermal system with electric backup gets an 8-cent/kwh rate. If there is a natural gas backup, then the rate drops down to 5-cent/kwh.

In all it seems that if the choice to go geothermal can be both environmentally sound and economically friendly, it becomes no choice at all.

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