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City Of Urbana Launches Geothermal Energy Program To Help Cut Carbon Emissions

Scott Tess
City of Urbana Sustainability and Resilience Officer Scott Tess says after the success of Solar Urbana-Champaign, a new bulk-purchasing geothermal program is being launched to help cut carbon emissions further.

URBANA – The City of Urbana is launching a new bulk purchasing program that will make it cheaper and easier for homeowners and businesses to install geothermal energy systems—and help reduce carbon emissions.

The program, run in partnership with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), chooses a single installer that provides bulk pricing for geothermal systems. The more people who sign contracts for installations, the cheaper the price is for everyone in the group.

It’s based on the model of another local bulk solar program, Solar Urbana-Champaign, which has worked to reduce carbon emissions from electricity through solar energy in the last five years, says Scott Tess, Urbana’s sustainability and resilience officer.

“But we’re all still operating little fossil fuel power plants in our homes in the form of natural gas furnaces,” Tess says. “So now we want to start addressing the greenhouse gas emissions from home heating. So that’s the point of focusing on geothermal.”

Geothermal energy helps reduce carbon emissions from heating and cooling, but it can also reduce heating costs long-term. The idea behind it as a source of renewable energy is tapping into the heat generated by the earth’s core through heat pumps. Once a geothermal system is installed, it pumps heat out of the house in the summer and pushes it into the ground. In the winter, it pumps heat out of the ground and into the house.

“When you’re heating your home with natural gas, and you’re buying fuel, you’re paying for natural gas supply every single month,” Tess says. “What’s nice about geothermal, it takes a huge bite out of your heating bill. You pay for the equipment, and that’s about all you pay for, because the fuel so to speak for geothermal is free.”

Tess says the bulk purchasing program would reduce installation pricing by up to 25 percent if enough contracts are signed. But even with that reduction, the cost for a system remains at around $25,000 dollars.

Urbana currently has no plan in place to help incentivize geothermal in low-income communities, like the state-run Solar For All program. That program, funded by the Future Energy Jobs Act, aims to boost affordable solar energy among low-income Illinois residents through incentives and tax credits.

The city will host a series of virtual “Geothermal power hours” in the coming weeks to help educate residents about the bulk purchasing program.

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