Senior nonprofit to use geothermal wells for energy
Friday, March 21, 2008
BOSTON BUSINESS JOURNAL - BY Naomi R. Kooker JOURNAL STAFF
Hebrew SeniorLife is using geothermal energy to help modernize and "green" its business practices. The Boston-based nonprofit is investing $4 million to dig 408 geothermal wells that will be 500 feet deep each and will heat and cool its new facility, NewBridge on the Charles, a 1 million-square-foot housing and mixed-use campus on 162 acres in Dedham.
It is the largest geothermal project under construction in New England at this time.
HSL is making the move at a time when an increasing number of local nonprofits and for-profit companies are exploring geothermal power, which uses the earth's energy to heat and cool offices and buildings.
Driven in part by global warming and the push to be more green, and spurred by rising fossil fuel costs, more organizations are considering geothermal systems as a way to save money -- if they can wait for the eight- to nine-year return on investment. That return, however, is improving as conventional energy costs continue to rise: HSL said last week that its return on investment is closer to seven-and-a-half years, not nine.
"This is what you do as responsible stewards to the earth," said Len Fishman, HSL president and CEO. "You do what's good for the long term and not focus on the short term."
HSL provides housing, health care and education programs for seniors. It is spending close to a half-billion dollars to construct NewBridge, an elder care facility.
Though it would be cheaper initially for HSL to install a conventional heating and cooling system, Fishman said the decision to use geothermal wells fits with the nonprofit's mission to create a more sustainable, energy-efficient operation to serve generations to come. That includes reducing CO2 emissions that come from fossil fuels, such as oil and gas. Using the geothermal system is the equivalent to taking 1,700 cars off the road, annually, said Fishman.
Fishman said it will cost 20 percent less annually to operate the geothermal system, which in its first year should reap a $325,000 savings in light of fossil fuel energy costs rising 5 percent per year.
In five years, the savings will be $400,000 annually, and in 10 years, there will be a $700,000 annual savings, he said. Maintenance costs are a fraction of what they would be for a conventional system, he said.
Fishman realized HSL could defray $2 million of the cost through energy and maintenance savings. The other $2 million is financed through long-term debt.
When HSL began discussing the geothermal option, not all its board members were supportive.
"What I was skeptical about was the investment and pay-back period," said Thomas M. Alperin, a HSL board member and president and founding partner of National Development, a real estate management and construction company in Newton.
Alperin said with the skyrocketing costs of gas and oil over the past two years, it turned out to be "a very sound economic decision."
The cost to drill and set up exterior pipes can run about $12,000 per well, said Jeffrey A. Gouveia Jr., executive vice president and general manager of Suffolk Construction Co., which is overseeing the NewBridge construction.
HSL is using a closed-loop system, in which a heat pump extracts heat energy from water circulating deep in the earth.
Boston Neighborhood Network, a nonprofit that provides equipment and facilities for TV production, dug two wells to provide heating and cooling for its newly renovated 8,900-square-foot Roxbury headquarters. Perkins School for the Blind, which operates its greenhouse with a geothermal well, is in the early stages of considering digging 20 to 25 wells to heat and cool other buildings on campus.
Naomi Kooker can be reached at email@example.com.