For immediate release: August 9, 1999
Media Contact: Claudia Chandler -- 916 654-4989

Geothermal Energy Heats, Cools Mountain College

Sacramento -- Feather River College in Quincy, California, debunks the notion that heating and air conditioning powered by the earth's underground energy is the stuff of science fiction.

For the last 18 months, the community college of 1,100 students in an alpine setting on the northeastern slopes of the high Sierras has showcased a large-scale geothermal heat pump project -- one that is turning into a model for California schools eager to save on energy bills.

Designed and engineered through a partnership with the California Energy Commission and private groups, the innovative GeoExchange project has enabled the college to trim its heating and cooling energy by 421,000-kilowatt hours. Translated in dollars, that amounts to about $50,000 that the college saves each year.

"These savings can now be redirected to support our educational mission and students," said Ron Groh, assistant superintendent of the Feather River Community College district. "An additional advantage comes in the form of quieter operating heat pumps. This is important to our educational environment."

The technology benefits the college's three office buildings: the library, the gymnasium in a multi-purpose structure and three classroom buildings a total of 53,000 square feet of enclosed space.

These facilities had been served by air conditioners, air-to-air heat pumps and electric furnaces -- equipment so antiquated that it proved expensive to maintain and operate during the Sierra's harsh winters, and cost nearly $200 per full-time student in the college's annual operating budget. With the old equipment, the College's annual heating and cooling costs had been as high as $190,000.

The old equipment was replaced by a geothermal heat pump system (GHP), a highly efficient and cost effective space heating and cooling technology nearing the commercial market stage in California. It is commonly used in the Northwestern, Midwestern and Southern parts of the United States.

Rather than air, most GHP systems, like the one at Feather River College, use the depths of the earth -- up to a couple of hundred feet deep -- where the temperatures are constant as the source of heat in the winter or a place to dump heat in the summer. Thus, heat moves through the system, instead of being produced.

A GHP system is made from off-the-shelf hardware, plus a unique subsection, an in-ground loop piping heat-exchanger. This loop is generally designed to accommodate the size of the heat pump system and calculated space conditioning needs. GHP systems are also known to provide aesthetic advantages because they minimize visible outdoor equipment.

The idea of updating the school's antiquated comfort system started in 1992 after the college's administration authorized an engineering study to find options for reducing energy costs. The study projected significant annual energy savings by upgrading lighting and replacing heating and cooling systems. But the project was shelved because of limited financial resources.

In 1996, Princeton Development Corporation, Guttman & Blaevoet and engineers and technical experts from the Energy Commission, assisted the college administration in coming up with alternatives. They eventually chose the GeoExchange system.

Princeton Development underwrote 100 percent of the project's costs. Funding from the project came from various sources, including the Energy Commission, the California Community Colleges, the National Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium, long-term debt financing, and third party equity financing. As a Geothermal Heat Pump Demonstration Project, the College received assistance in engineering, commissioning and monitoring of the ground loop installations.

The retrofit reached completion after the project was analyzed through a nationally recognized energy analysis program. The GeoExchange was installed in January 1998 by Heat Transfer Systems.

The entire project cost $512,000 roughly $218,000 more than the base price of air source heat pumps. The in-ground heat exchange loop is responsible for most of the cost differential that will be paid back many times over during the system's life cycle.

Princeton experts are continuing to evaluate the performance of the system, as a basis for their report to the College and the Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium.

As a demonstration project, the GeoExchange system at the college received an incentive of $35,000 from the Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium. This amount, plus funding from the California Community Colleges and the yearly savings of about $50,000, will enable Feather River College to repay the system's price tag in less than five years. And in the future, reduced operation and maintenance costs, and longer life for the major system hardware will continue to benefit the college.

Attention Editors: For additional technical information on the project, contact:

Steve Taber, Princeton Development Corporation (415) 457-1848
Ron Groh, Feather River Community College (530) 283-0202

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