Delta schools to save $180k a year with new technology

Pipes laid underground gather solar heat from the earth to warm the schools in the winter

An energy efficiency project expected to generate big savings for the Delta School District will break ground at Neilson Grove Elementary on Oct. 1.

The school is just one of 11 buildings in the district ready to undergo a $6.4 million geoexchange system upgrade featuring pipes installed under the playing fields that provide heating and cooling to the schools.

FortisBC, previously known as Terasen Gas, will provide the installation and upfront costs of the project, meaning the school district won’t have to pinch their pennies to pay for it.

“Providing this type of technology to nine schools throughout the school district, in conjunction with upgrading all the boilers to high efficiency boilers is a pretty significant energy solution,” says Michael Allison, a spokesman with FortisBC.

Geoexchange is based on solar heat that gets trapped in the earth during warmer months of the year. Heat pumps then draw that heat from the ground as the weather cools and pumps it into the building, explains Allison.

During warmer months it can use the cooler earth as a heat sync to cool the buildings.

The size of the geoexchange system is determined by the amount of energy required. In the case of Delta’s schools, the pipes will likely be stored under the athletic fields.

The system works in conjunction with natural gas boilers to provide backup heat as needed.

The school district was originally approached by Fortis in late 2009 during a time when it was looking at finding more energy efficient replacements for gas-fired furnaces that had reached the end of their lifespan.

“What we wanted to do was get away from spending considerable taxpayer dollars on replacing and operating the equipment, but at the same time we wanted to reduce our need for energy to heat our buildings and as a result pay less on our carbon taxes and carbon offsets,” says Frank Geyer, director of facilities and planning for the school district.

Fortis came back with an offer to replace the existing equipment, and provide the labour and installation, which was very attractive to the school district. Because Fortis retains the asset, it also pays for maintenance, operation, and replacement costs. The school district merely pays for the heat.

Geyer estimates geoexchange will reduce the school district’s carbon footprint by 2,000 metric tons.

“Which is enormous,” he says enthusiastically. “That’s about half of what our portfolio is, just on the building side.”

Between natural gas cost savings and carbon offsets, Geyer expects the school district will save roughly $180,000 a year.

The school district spent just under $100,000 last year to buy Pacific Carbon Trust offsets at $25 per metric ton in order to meet the province’s carbon neutral mandate for public sector organizations. That was money that wasn’t spent on education, and worse, it wasn’t budgeted for, explains Geyer.

“There’s a social conscience attached to it by reducing our carbon footprint, showing we are going to be industry leaders in this area, but also saving $50,000 a year in carbon offsets that isn’t going to be taken out of education.”

The school district has received $1.4 million in funding from the Public Sector Energy Conservation Agreement fund, which was created in 2007 by the province to help public sector organizations reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. That’s been added to $5 million being spent by Fortis on the geoexchange project.

Fortis is expected to take the next two summers to retrofit all 11 school buildings, but that’s considerably quicker than the school district’s capital replacement plan.

Eight other buildings in the school district will receive new boilers from Fortis that are expected to be up to 30 per cent more energy efficient than the old ones.

For more information on geoexchange visit www.fortisbc.com, click on energy solutions and then geoexchange systems.

Surrey North Delta Leader

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