BY BILL WOLCOTT
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — ROYALTON — While they may not be inspired by a church in Wolcottsville, the Royalton Town Board is looking into a geothermal replacement heating system for its highway garage.
St. Michael’s Lutheran Church is already doing it, and the hamlet on the southeast corner of Niagara County is on the cutting edge of green technology.
”We’re just about as green as we can be,” said pastor Bruce Donley, who has been at the church for seven years. St. Michael’s, which was founded over 150 years ago, has solar panels on the roof and 28,000 feet of polyethene piping below the ground.
The $190,000 project for the church and the house is in its final phase and a Buffalo Geothermal Heating crew is working to get heat in the church by Sunday.
Oil bills at St. Michael’s, which was built in the 1950s, range from $15,000 to $16,000 a year. With geothermal, the heating cost could be cut to $5,000.
“The big reason we’re doing it is to save money,” Donley said.
The solar panels, which were installed on the roof earlier this year, will help pay the electric bill. Electricity will power the geothermal units. The meter runs backwards if the church is not using power.
Town board member Bradley Rehwahlt, who has 38 years of construction experience, said the town has been considering geothermal heating for a few years. He was recently certified as a green builder and
Reywaldt Builders has put geothermal heating units in four of the last six houses he’s built.
Rehwahlt recommends it for all new builds. While retro-fit costs are higher, the initial extra cost of geothermal could be made up in three or four years.
”If you’re building a new house, I don’t care where it is, you put geothermal in,” said Todd Schmigel, president of Buffalo Geothermal who is supervising the Wolcottsville project. “For every dollar you spend, you’re creating four dollars in heat.”
Geothermal technology, which was developed in the 1950s, has become very common in Europe. The process is making headway in the western states, but has been slow to catch on in Western New York, according to Schmigel whose grandfather started a plumbing business in Buffalo in 1935.
”What we’re really doing is ground sourcing,” said Schmigel.
That is, the heat is taken from the ground where it is a constant 50 degrees and transferred to the building. Geothermal is also used for air conditioning.
“It’s much like a refrigerator works. It takes energy from one spot to another,” he explained. “With geothermal, instead of using air as energy transfer, you’re using the ground ... It’s put through a compression cycle.”
To get the geothermal wires and pipes in the ground, the church lawn had to be dug up. There is horizontal loop field at the church. The “footprint” can be smaller if the pipe is planted deeper.
Bids closed at 10 a.m. today at the Royalton Town Hall for the highway garage project. “We’re looking to get information,” said Town Supervisor Jennifer Bieber. “They gave a presentation and it seemed a great thing. It’s green energy. It’s really neat and interesting.”
The board wants to see the figures and determine the cost saving before making a decision.