Norfolk, unlike Iceland, is not on a geothermal "hotspot," where steam and
superheated water can be extracted and used for heat and power. But, like many
parts of the earth, it sits atop a virtually inexhaustible source of heating
and cooling energy. From about ten feet below the surface and for hundreds of
feet on down the temperature of the rocks and soil is about 50 degrees all the
time, year round. Can this be used economically to help heat and cool our
homes, reducing our dependence on costly oil while decreasing air pollution?
Increasingly, given the advances of geothermal technology, the answer appears
to be yes.
Elizabeth Knowles and Tom Murtha have recently completed installation of a
geothermal system for their home on Laurel Way Extension. "It's working very
well so far," said Tom, "and we expect it to pay for itself in only a few
years." The couple are especially pleased that by using much less fuel oil
they will significantly reduce their Carbon footprint. Tom has just assumed a
major position with The Nature Conservancy, the worldwide federation of
conservation organizations. He will be working in Washington, New York and
elsewhere to help large corporations act in environmentally conscious ways
while achieving their business goals.
With planning and design help from Peter Tavino, a Columbia-trained geothermal
engineer from Litchfield, and after months of careful preparation, the
Knowles-Murthas were well prepared. They hired Wragg Well Drilling, of
Roxbury, to sink two 450 foot wells near the house, which hold about 1700 feet
of grouted 1.25-inch plastic pipe filled with a mixture of water and propylene
glycol. Nutmeg Mechanical, of Manchester, then connected the pipes to an
electrically-powered Climatemaster heat pump installed in the basement, which
extracts heat from the ground in the winter and sends heat to the ground in
the summer. The resulting heated or cooled air flows through the duct system
used by the existing oil furnace. The furnace is retained as a backup system.
The cost savings, which may pay for the system in as few as six years, arise
from from a combination of the international oil market and the local
electricity market. While new sources of oil continue to be discovered, nearly
all of them are more costly to recover and process than earlier sources. The
expense of producing oil from tar sands and deep ocean drilling seems likely
to require continued price increases. On the other hand, regional natural gas
developments have greatly reduced its price in recent years. Since a lot of
electricity in this area is generated from natural gas, prices have fallen and
may continue to drop. Within the last year local generation charges have
decreased by about eight percent. The added cost of running the heat pump is
already substantially less than the cost of the oil that would have been
burned in its place.
"Connecticut is the leading state in promoting growth of geothermal," said
Tavino, who is one of the top four trainers of geothermal technicians in the
country. "Why use heat from oil thousands of miles away when you can tap into
the ground next to your house? Also, this puts money back into the American
economy, much of it right around here. The Climatemaster was made in Oklahoma.
There are currently two rebates available for a geothermal installation: a
federal tax credit of 30% of the cost, in force through 2016, and a CL&P
rebate of up to $1500, depending on the size of the system.
A serious investigation of geothermal installation should begin with a home
energy audit and a load analysis. If a new duct system is needed, the time for
the system to pay for itself will clearly be longer. For further information,
go to the internet, perhaps beginning with a visit to petertavino.com.
Geothermal users of a certain age may also take satisfaction in the knowledge
that their system is just like that at the Lenox home of James Taylor.