West Union Geothermal Project Wraps Up

This following article originally ran in the Union Echo Leader and was written by Jack Swanson, Fayette County Newspapers (fayettecountynewspapers.com)

A recent study of the West Union Geothermal system has discovered that the system is “sound and operating smoothly.”

That study by the Winneshiek Energy District was recently presented to the West Union City Council. The Winneshiek Energy District was contracted to facilitate this study officially named, ”From Pilot to Prosperity: Economic & Sociocultural Success for the West Union’s community geothermal system,” or the short version, “Green Up West Union…Community Energy Opportunities.” Winneshiek Energy District, Energy Planner, Joel Zook, led the project for the City of West Union. 

The report went on to state that, “The district geothermal system is a unique community asset. The City should do what it can to allow the system and its users to thrive. They are on sound financial footing and moving ahead, They should be able to attract additional users to the system.”

It was explained that a greater user base should help lower per user costs even more, as the system costs are fairly even regardless of the number of users on the system, and that a fully utilized system will serve the community to an even greater degree.

The system is currently being used by 11 entities. These include Fehr Graham Engineering, Gus & Tony’s Town House Café, Fayette County Courthouse, Bank First, Kerndt Brothers Bank, Chamber of Commerce, West Union Library, and Unique Memories, Tindell Shoes, Woodard Insurance, and Vintage on Vine.

There are 58 stubs (buildings and empty lots) that remain unconnected from the district geothermal system on Vine, Elm, Main, Adams, Plum and Walnut streets.

The system is leased to a West Union District Energy (WUDE) LLC made up of the system users. Each user pays a monthly user fee based on their building’s demand for the system. The geothermal wells are located in the Fayette County Courthouse lawn and the loop field is located below the streets of the town square.

The report suggested that going forward, the City should decide whether it wants to continue to lease the system to the system users, through WUDE, or if it would like to take an active role in the managing system.

“If there’s no desire to operate the system outright, we recommend the City and WUDE negotiate a middle-term lease of three to five years. This will give both parties certainty to how the system will be operated. The system is currently being leased on a month-to-month extension of the original lease that was signed at the beginning of the project,” Zook reported.

Zook said the WUDE is looking very financially sound with a projected year end income of $12,000 and they currently have $23,000 cash on hand.

The report pointed out that all case studies reported have shown energy and utility savings over a traditional gas system utilizing the geothermal district system. They listed several of the users’ utility savings:

Courthouse – $6,772 

Gus & Tony’s – $582 not including apartments.

Library – $1,045

Kerndt Bros. Bank – $535 

Historical Center – $960 in projected savings.

In reference to system design and functionality:

“Overall system design and layout is good with only very little for recommendations. Overall pumping horsepower for the system is high on a per capacity basis. The main geothermal pumps for the loop field also pump the entire district. If the system was expanded, it would be recommended that the district have its own pumps and the loop fields have their own pumps for lower operating costs. Technically, the system has flow capacity for additional users due to the users needing their own pumps within each building for their own systems. Until and unless additional loop fields are added, pumping arrangement is technically sound.

It was also pointed out that carbon emissions have been removed by removing the use of fossil fuels.

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