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Geothermal system saving money at fire station

April 9, 2010 - 3:45pm


An environmentally friendly geothermal heating and cooling system in Pennsylvania will save taxpayers $15,000 a year as part of a new fire substation that will decrease emergency response times.

The Alpha Fire Co. celebrated the opening of substation on the ground floor of the College Township municipal building earlier this year in State College, Pa., home to Pennsylvania State University. The station has rooms and amenities for live-in volunteer firefighters, all Penn State students. By having multiple stations with live-in firefighters, Alpha can respond quicker to emergencies across the town.

A geothermal heating and cooling system has enabled the substation to save taxpayers $15,000 annually when compared to a traditional system. The geothermal-powered unit uses heat from water that’s pumped in from the sewage treatment building to preheat water used in the station. The high temperature of the treatment building’s water helps reduce the amount of energy needed to heat water in the substation.

The use of the unique energy source has attracted some attention from the community.

“We expected 30 people at the ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house, but we ended up with probably 70 people, a full house, who wanted to see what their tax money was going for, and we were flabbergasted,” Steve Bair, fire director, says. “The interest in this project was greater than anything I can recall since I’ve been here, including buying a million-dollar fire engine.”

Steve knows there are some fire department costs he just can’t control such as diesel fuel and the volume of emergency calls.

“So, what can I control?” he asks. “Well, the operating costs of the buildings can be controlled through engineered solutions and behavior. The cost difference when you’re building something to be energy efficient at the front end is cost competitive with traditional methods, and then you’re saving money every year moving forward.”

Steve says he feels as though the government has an obligation to provide the best possible services in a cost-effective manner to those who pay taxes. He’s doing that by implementing the latest energy efficient and renewable energy technologies. With lighting upgrades and geothermal energy in the new fire station, he expects operation costs to drop to less than a dollar per square foot annually, as opposed to over $3 per square foot annually for Alpha’s older, main building.