Miami utility project to save energy, money

University will convert 40 percent of campus to geothermal by 2025.

A geothermal plant is under construction on the university’s Western Campus, along with three new residence halls and a dining hall that will be powered with geothermal energy, which is more energy-efficient than traditional methods, said Doug Hammerle, Miami’s director of energy systems.

“We’re going to change the way we heat and cool the campus … 40 percent of the campus is going to go geothermal by 2025,” Hammerle said. The rest of the campus will be converted to natural gas by that time frame.

A utility master plan approved last year calls for the elimination of coal use by 2025 on the Butler County campus of more than 17,000 students. Geothermal systems are also being considered for the regional Miami campuses in Middletown and Hamilton, according to Hammerle.

“It’s a very, very ambitious plan,” Hammerle said. “We coupled this utility plan with our long-range housing plan … next year we’re going to shut down all of the east quad. The following year we will close down north quad. When you close down whole sections of campus, you can really do great things with infrastructure improvements. You have the opportunity to change how you do business.”

Instead of burning coal to generate steam, a geothermal system pulls heat out of the ground via wells, which total more than 300 for the project’s first phase. It’s a cleaner, less noisy and more “green” system that has multiple benefits, Hammerle said.

According to Miami’s master plan, the geothermal system is 442 percent more energy-efficient than a traditional system. The disadvantage is that it has a higher start-up cost by about $10 million.

The geothermal conversion is estimated to cost $58.5 million, compared to $42.5 million to maintain and expand current heating and cooling facilities, according to university officials.

But the trade-off, officials said, is in savings of $1 million a year in operating and maintenance costs.

In addition, the geothermal system will provide more than environmental and financial benefits. It will also serve as an educational opportunity for students.

“The student program will set up class participation tours and show students how we can implement these practices in areas of business,” said Cody Powell, Miami University’s vice president of facilities planning and operations.

“We try to focus most everything we do on looking longer-term,” he said. “The money we save can be invested in student programming.”

House Bill 251 stipulates that state institutions in Ohio reduce energy consumption 20 percent by next year.

Miami’s master plan shows that the Oxford campus has already met that mark, reducing its energy usage from 160,000 BTUs per square foot in 2004 to the required mark of 130,000 BTUs last year. The Hamilton campus dropped to about 120,000 BTUs last year. The Middletown campus’ usage has fluctuated more, but it reduced its rate from 160,000 BTUs in 2011 to 150,000 units in 2012.

Other Ohio colleges and universities have included geothermal energy in their building plans to help reduce costs.

The Ohio State University has equipped residence halls with a geothermal system, according to Jane Carroll, spokeswoman for the university. OSU received a LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Other projects that received the certification included the Ohio Union and the university’s 4-H building.

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