Geothermal Energy Is Catching On

Geothermal Energy Is Catching On

By Susan Corica
Staff Writer

Geothermal will supply energy to new Bristol K-8 schools

All new schools in Connecticut are mandated by the state to be built to certain environmental standards, according to Roger LaFleur, project manager for the Capital Region Education Council, which works with schools to reduce energy costs. The standard is known as LEED Silver. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an internationally recognized green building certification system, and Silver is the third highest of its four designations.
BRISTOL — Geothermal is proving to be a shade of the new green.

When the West Bristol and Forestville schools open next year, beneath the athletic fields will be geothermal wells, one of the newest of environmentally friendly technologies catching on in Connecticut.

There are a multitude of methods that can be used to hit the LEED Silver rating, LaFleur said. Points can be accumulated for simple things like adding a bike rack and locating a school on a public bus route to promote students riding or commuting to school, or for using complex technology like geothermal.

LaFleur said he doesn’t know of any other schools in Connecticut that use geothermal technology. There must be enough land to drill the wells so it’s not practical for every setting, he said.

“We are cutting edge. The long-term energy savings will be tremendous, that was why we made the decision to put the geothermal system in in the first place,” Bristol Deputy Superintendent Susan Moreau said.

West Bristol and Forestville each will have 150 wells, and each well will be about 500 feet deep, explained Tim Callahan, the district’s projects manager for the schools.

West Bristol’s geothermal system will require more than 75,000 feet of pipe, and Forestville a similar amount.

Heating turns ‘smart’

The idea is to pump water through pipes deep into the earth, where the ambient temperature is always 52 degrees, Callahan said. So during warm weather the water will be cooled down and in the winter it will warm up. There will be no boilers; the water will be heated through heat transfer pumps and then circulated through the buildings.

The classroom floors will have radiant heat that brings the warmth to the students’ feet and let it rise. Cool air will be brought in through vents near the ceilings.

“So the warmer temperatures are brought in from low, and the cooler from high, which makes everything very efficient,” Callahan said.

The Bristol schools — West Bristol on Matthews Street and Forestville on Pine Street — will be “smart buildings.”

Heating and cooling will be remotely controlled by computer from the Board of Education building on Church Street, Callahan said. “The system will be able to simultaneously cool some portions of the building and heat other portions depending on where the sun is shining.”

The wells will be part of a larger design that includes solar panels to generate electricity, classroom reflective shelves to bounce natural light deeper into the building, and outside sun screens angled to diffuse the sunlight where it hits the building in the hot summer months.

“It’s really a cost issue,” he said. “Early on in the design process we did a cost-benefit analysis. Based on our reimbursement from the state, it’s going to take us about 10 years to capture back the cost of the geothermal system.”

Moreau said the cost to drill the wells is about $1.1 million for each school. The architects are applying for some of the incentive rebates available in Connecticut to encourage property owners to invest in geothermal technology, she said.

The city approved $52 million for West Bristol and $53 million for Forestville, but each school is about $9 million under budget. The state is picking up 74 percent of the expense for both projects, a higher-than-normal allocation that helped drive city officials to push through the construction plan.

Representatives from CES of Middletown, the engineering company installing the schools’ geothermal system, said the wells in the bore field will not be visible above ground.

“You don’t see it, you don’t hear it, you don’t feel vibrations, it’s just underground,” said Jim Kowalski, CES associate. The system is accessed through a “collector box” that’s similar to a manhole cover. It’s low maintenance and should last for 50 years, he said.

Not new, but not widely used

A number of contractors offer geothermal systems in Connecticut. CES Vice President Douglas Lajoie said his company has been doing geothermal projects for at least 12 years.

“With the cost of energy over the last five years, it really has become a hot topic of discussion in the construction industry. It’s really not a new technology, it’s just becoming more prevalent,” Lajoie said.

It’s being used in different types of large institutional buildings, even sometimes in large residences, he said. He doesn’t know of any other geothermal-equipped buildings in the Bristol or New Britain area.

“It’s not the right system for every project but we’ll do an economic analysis to determine if it’s correct,” Kowalski said. “If the owner desires to save on energy, it’s an extremely efficient way to heat and cool your building.”

The process of cooling or warming water pumped through a bore field is known as geo-exchange. True geothermal means sending water as deep as five miles into the ground to convert it to steam using volcanic heat and then sending that to a turbine to create electricity, Kowalski explained.

“People are more familiar with the word geothermal, so we kind of use the terms interchangeably,” he said. “We love designing geothermal, we find it very energy-efficient, and we look forward to more folks looking into it.”

Commercial and residential incentives for investing in geothermal technology are available through the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, a quasi-public agency, now through April.

Meanwhile, the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, which is administered by Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating, is offering incentives for new and retrofitted residential geothermal installation through Dec. 15.

The cost of installing geothermal technology, and the amount of the rebates available, vary according to the size of the home or business, and whether it’s a new construction or retrofit. For the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, rebates are available up to $7,200 for residential, $175,000 for nonresidential, or $262,000 for schools. For CL&P, rebates are available up to $1,500 per unit.

For more information, visit and click on Clean Energy Incentives, or go to, click on Save Energy & Money, and look for Geothermal Heat Pump Rebate on the left menu.