March 19th, 2001

A project to enhance Great River Medical Center’s geothermal system began Saturday, March 10, and is expected to continue through June. Two well-drilling rigs will be working daily, punching 240 holes 270 feet deep into the earth. The project will add to the system’s already exemplary energy-efficiency and cost-saving capabilities.

“Our current energy cost per square foot falls in the lower fifth percentile,” the hospital’s Development Director Steve Leavitt said. “We’re very proud of the efficiency we already have, but the real experience of operating this facility through all seasons has given us a better idea of how it works and ways it can improve. The wells will allow us to even out the winter and summer extremes.

“When the well system becomes operational, we’ll have better abilities to maintain optimal operating efficiencies because the water temperature in the wells remains a constant 60 degrees,” Leavitt said.

Geothermal systems save energy. Instead of burning fuel, heat is exchanged from one source to another. Two 150-horsepower pumps push water through a looped piping system that extends from the building to the bottom of the 15-acre manmade lake. The 82 miles of closed pipes are filled with city water and an antibacterial additive. To heat the buildings, the pump moves heat energy from the lake into the building. To cool the building, the pump draws heat from the building and transfers it to the ground.

Two years ago, Great River Medical Center earned a $2 million rebate from Alliant Energy for the initial geothermal system. The hospital will receive another $60,000 rebate for using the wells.

The geothermal system has won several state, regional and national awards since it became operational in February 1999. Last year, the system won a first-place award for Energy Efficiency from Energy User News magazine, and two awards from the State of Iowa for energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy.

More recently, on March 9, 2001, the Associated Builders and Contractors presented the first national awards for the project to Brockway Mechanical and Roofing and Shaw Electric. In January, KJWW Engineering Consultants from Rock Island, Ill., received the 2001 Engineering Excellence Award from the Consulting Engineers Council of Illinois for developing what is believed to be the world’s largest lake-coupled geothermal system.

The system also has received attention worldwide from organizations interested in installing a similar system. Two contingents of engineering groups and project owners from Japan and several from the United States recently have traveled to West Burlington to see and learn more about the system.

“Although its proven technology, people still are waiting to see the success we have,” Leavitt said. “This winter’s high heating costs have driven people to search for options to natural gas. Geothermal is the hot topic of energy-efficient systems.”