Alternative energy utility gearing up in city

By ANDREA POTEET
Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – Energy in the city is about to get a little more down to earth.

An ordinance setting up a geothermal utility system passed at a Nov. 22 meeting and is slated to go into effect Wednesday.

Geothermal power, or thermal energy stored in the earth, was one of the alternative fuel sources Mayor Joseph Peterson listed among research priorities in his inaugural State of the City address Tuesday.

The geothermal utility, part of a joint venture with Hardin Geothermal, is the first of its kind in the area, said Melanie McCoy, Municipal Services general manager.

The setups include two 300- to 800-foot wells and a pipe that forms a closed circle. Water circulates through the pipe buried more than 400 feet deep in the ground, where temperatures are constantly about 51 degrees. The water requires less energy to heat and cool, because it starts at a neutral temperature, McCoy said.

“A furnace heats up your 0-degree air,” she said. “The heat pump will only have to heat 51-degree water up to 70 degrees. And instead of cooling down 90-degree air in the summer, you’re cooling down 51-degree water.”

The project can translate to much smaller energy bills for homeowners, but startup costs are high. A typical heat pump will cost the homeowner approximately $12,000, but federal tax incentives offer reimbursement of up to 30 percent.

The city charges $26 a ton for the wells, with the average homeowner needing a 2-ton unit. The average monthly payment for a typical homeowner would be $52, a savings of approximately $500 to $700 a year.

McCoy said geothermal power is a good choice for savings, but is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It would be most cost effective for people remodeling their homes, she said.

“We want a product that works for individuals,” she said. “It won’t work for everybody. If I just bought a brand-new furnace, it won’t work for me … with the homes being renovated, it’s the perfect time to do it.”

So far, the city has begun installation on two homes, one located on Lincoln and the other on Lindbergh. The heat pumps have been installed, but the wells are not yet completed. McCoy said they hope to have the wells fully installed in the next few weeks.

“We are going to have to get a couple installed so that people can see what they look like and people will be more comfortable with them,” she said.

The service is now available to all residents. McCoy said officials hope to continue to keep growing the program to include a majority of the city, but that it will take a while.

“We are going to move forward,” she said. “But it is going to be slow.”

(Contact Andrea Poteet at apoteet@bewickpublications.com)

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