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Geothermal energy heats up campus, cuts costs

Boise is home to the largest direct-use geothermal heating system in the U.S.

Construction on campus brings Geothermal energy. (CODY FINNEY/THE ARBITER)

It may be difficult to ignore construction when it is affecting traffic flow, but what students may not know is the recent lane closure by the Brady Parking Garage, the road work on Boise Ave. and the interchange at Capital Blvd. is assisting in bringing geothermal
energy to six major buildings on campus.

Boise is home to the largest direct-use geothermal heating system in the U.S. and supplies energy-efficient heat to more than 55 businesses in the downtown core area. There are four geothermal heating district systems in Boise: the city’s, the state’s, the Veterans’ Administration’s and the Boise Warm Springs Water District.

The state of Idaho operates the system that heats the Idaho State Capitol and several other buildings within the Capitol Mall area. The Veterans’ Administration (VA) provides service to its campus and the Boise Warm Springs Water District provides service to the residential properties in the vicinity of Warm Springs Ave.

The pipeline being laid underneath the asphalt around campus will be connected to the existing system using the same natural geothermal water that reaches temperatures upward of 170 degrees pumped from the ground near St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center.

The project will be completed in three phases: the first phase of the project, announced in 2009, will bring geothermal pipeline across the Capital Boulevard bridge and will connect the Morrison Center, the Multi-Purpose Building, the Interactive Learning Center and the Math and Geosciences Building.

The second phase of the project will connect the Administration Building, the Student Union Building and the Center for Environmental Sciences and Economics in
summer 2012.

The third and final phase will lay the return pipeline in a yet-to-be determined route back across Broadway Ave. The entire project isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2015.

The city system, previously an open system, discarded wastewater in the Boise River.

“(This caused) a significant drop in the (water) levels in the geothermal aquifer, which was a big issue in the mid-1980s and has been reversed with the city injecting some or all of our geothermal water since 1999,” said Kent Johnson, geothermal coordinator for the Public Works Department.

Johnson is referring to a recent upgrade that was completed in January 2006 to the geothermal system in Boise that resulted in a closed system, meaning that 100 percent of the water used is re-injected back into the underground aquifer near Julia Davis Park.

There are major benefits associated with the switch from natural gas to geothermal water. Natural gas, as a fossil fuel, is not a renewable resource meaning eventually we will run out.

“The environmental impact of extracting natural gas is causing increasing concern,” said John Gardner, director of the CAES Energy Efficiency Research Institute and professor of mechanical engineering. “The combustion of natural gas releases carbon dioxide and
nitrous oxides.”

By utilizing geothermal energy on campus, the university will be reducing its carbon footprint. Utilities on campus are the second largest contributor to the university’s carbon footprint. Daily commuting by students, faculty and staff is the largest contributor, according to Jared Everett, the executive director of Finance, Planning and Real Estate.

In addition, by harnessing natural energy to heat buildings on campus, the university is projected to save 33 percent on heating bills as opposed to natural gas, according to Everett.

Boise State has maintained an ongoing commitment to limit environmental impacts.

“Even though we as humans can still do a lot to reduce our energy use, we’ll always need reliable and preferably clean, sources of energy,” said Kasper Vanwijk, associate professor of geosciences at Boise State.

Geothermal heat is exactly the kind of energy Vanwijk is referring to and it will help to ensure Boise State is doing its part to maintain a responsible relationship with the
environment.

About Amy Merrill (0 Articles)
Amy is a senior at Boise State and the current news editor for The Arbiter. She crammed everything she possibly could into a single degree; a dual major in communication and English, a journalism emphasis and a political science minor. She is eager to earn what she calls, "that expensive piece of paper" on May 18, but in the meantime is focused on bringing campus as much news as humanly possible.

1 Comment on Geothermal energy heats up campus, cuts costs

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