The New York City Council has taken a step toward geothermal inclusion that may prove to be a blueprint for other cities across the nation. The city council voted unanimously to pass a bill that encourages the installation of geothermal energy and requires that geothermal heat pumps be considered for all new construction and retrofits of city-owned buildings.

“This bill represents the first time in city history that the social cost of carbon will be considered as part of an environmental policy,” said councilman Costa Constantinides, the bill’s sponsor, per the Times Ledger. “Using geothermal technology in city-owned buildings will save us money, reduce our carbon footprint, and offer a road map for environmental leadership for the private sector to follow. The online screening tool will also provide an opportunity for informed private geothermal installations, making them simpler and safer for people to install in their homes or commercial buildings.”

Jack DiEnna, executive director and founder of the Geothermal National & International Initiative, said that although most people identify New York City as Manhattan, it’s actually made up of five boroughs: Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island being the other four.

“Even though we have projects in Manhattan, it’s obviously easier and less costly to put them in the other four boroughs,” he said.


Those five NYC boroughs consist of an estimated 8.5 million people, so there is certainly plenty of opportunity for both retrofits and new geothermal construction to take place.

“New York has a long history of supporting geothermal heat pump technology,” said DiEnna. “This started with New York City councilman [James] Gennaro and Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2013 with the passage of Int. 694-A, which cleared the way for the study of geothermal energy systems in New York City, showing that NYC has some of the best geology and conditions for the adoption of geothermal systems. It was then expanded upon with Int. 0609, championed by councilman Constantinides, which promotes the use of geothermal systems throughout NYC.”

DiEnna added that geothermal technology itself is simple: “It is using the energy under our feet to deliver space conditioning [heating and cooling] and water heating, using the energy we already own to accomplish that. Geothermal heat pump technology is a 60-year-old American technology that delivers the ‘Triple E’ benefits of energy efficiency and security [lower utility bills, reducing strain on the power grid]; environmental stability [reduced emissions]; and economic prosperity [job creation].

There are currently more than 100 geothermal projects in operation in the five boroughs, and about 90 percent of those projects are closed-loop, vertical-bore systems, per the New York Times. Some of the more high-profile locations with geothermal installations include the American Institute of Architects, the Times Square TKTS Booth, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, the Queens Botanical Garden, and the Bronx Zoo Lion House.

“Our study earlier this year showed that New York City has some of the best geology and conditions for the adoption of geothermal systems,” said Nilda Mesa, director, Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. “At the same time, in areas that are not suited for these systems, it’s important for building owners to know that up front. We look forward to clearing the way for more geothermal systems in New York City at less cost and planning time for building owners and to finding ways to use this strategy more often in our own municipal buildings where we can.”

DiEnna added that this technology has had the support of New York Public Service commissioner Patricia Acampora for more than 10 years and has also been recognized as a renewable thermal asset in the clean energy fund in the REV [Reforming the Energy Vision] program.


DiEnna believes this measure can and should be adopted in any municipality throughout the U.S.

“Increased use of geothermal heat pump systems reduces energy costs for the end user; reduces peak load, which supports a stronger grid; reduces emissions; and creates jobs,” he said.

DiEnna is not alone in believing geothermal initiatives and legislation will continue to increase in the coming years, with NYC serving as the precursor to other cities jumping in.

Doug Dougherty, president and CEO of the Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO), believes measures like this can be enacted at any level of local government. He’s confident this measure can and will succeed in other cities across the country. “What works in NYC can work elsewhere. NYC sets out a process for adoption, and the last section of the bill paves the way for easier adoption of geothermal heat pump systems by developing standards for the design and installations of these systems, including the suspension of closed loops in marine surface waters around the city.”

Dougherty added that GEO didn’t hear any opposition to this bill, which bodes well for similar legislation elsewhere.

DiEnna is now using NYC’s initiative in talks with other cities and said they are interested in how successful this legislation will be, which will have a positive impact on the technology moving forward.

“People do believe that if it can be done in NYC, it can be done anywhere,” he said.

Publication date: 2/15/2016

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