Museum installs geothermal system

A $44,758 grant aids the Savanna center, which occupies a building that previously had extremely high utility bills.

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Posted: Saturday, December 22, 2012 12:00 am

SAVANNA, Ill. -- A $44,758 GeoAlliance grant was recently presented to the Savanna Museum and Cultural Center to help fund the installation of a geothermal heat pump heating and cooling system.

The grant program is funded by the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and administered by the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives. Grant funding is passed down from the association to Illinois cooperatives that re-grant it to qualifying members who receive electricity from them. The cooperative in this case was Jo-Carroll Energy Inc., Elizabeth.

The purpose of the grant program is to encourage the use of clean and efficient geothermal systems to heat and cool not-for-profit and public facilities that receive electric service from Illinois electric cooperatives. The grants are awarded for one-third of the difference between the cost of a traditional fossil fuel heating and cooling system and a geothermal heating and cooling system up to $50,000 per installation.

Geothermal heat pump systems use the Earth's natural energy. During cooling months, heat and humidity from inside a building are transferred into the earth through tubing in the ground. During heating months, the process is reversed.

John Lecomte, Savanna Historical Society board trustee and local attorney, said the board was surprised to learn the building they'd selected for the museum and cultural center, which originally housed a furniture store, had extremely high electric bills.

"The store's monthly bill just for heat was as much as $1,500," Lecomte said. "We decided it would be a terrible shame if we remodeled this building and created a beautiful museum for the community but couldn't afford to operate it because of the high utility bills."

Utility bills are now less than $300 per month for heat and closer to $200 per month for air conditioning.

Nancy McDonald, marketing administrator at the association, commended the museum and cultural center for its diligence in finding the best solution.

"Geothermal costs a little more than traditional fossil fuel heating and air conditioning systems, and it can be tempting for a board to select the least-expensive system because they are just looking at the cost now and not at the long-term savings and other benefits," McDonald said. "Simple math shows that the payback for the extra upfront costs will be short, and the savings will be considerable in the long run."

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