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Schriever Sentinel

Geothermal technology pays dividends at New Boston

By Scott Prater

Schriever Sentinel

Demolition crews destroyed three fuel tanks Sept. 25 at New Boston Air Force Station, N.H.

Using backhoes and earthmovers, crews removed two 4,000-gallon steel containers and a third 5,000-gallon container, as well as the concrete vaults used to protect them from damage. Crews then hauled the remnants away and paved over a portion of the area.

All told, the project took roughly two days to complete. Bryan Henderson, 23rd Space Operations Squadron base civil engineer, said the event transpired according to plan and the space near Building 103 now resembles an open grassy area.

In other words, the event was … uneventful.

However, there’s another aspect to this project. Its significance lies not in what happened, but why.

In a time when rising fuel costs are consuming ever larger shares of military budgets, New Boston is cutting its dependence on heating oil. The fuel tanks that formerly served three buildings on station were destroyed simply because they were no longer needed.

Station leaders decided to install high-efficiency geothermal heating, ventilation and air conditioning units in buildings at New Boston as far back as 2009. Indicative of their name, these new geothermal HVAC units use the Earth as their primary fuel source. They also use small amounts of electricity to run pumps and heat exchangers as well, but those costs come in significantly less than heating oil.

Henderson estimated that 23rd Space Operations Squadron has saved an average of $21,000 a year in fuel costs thanks to the switch and will continue to save more as the price of heating oil rises in the future. In 2009, the squadron paid an average of $1.44 per gallon for heating fuel. That price jumped to $1.90 in 2010 and by 2011, it hit $3.00 a gallon. So far in 2012, it’s averaging $3.88.

It’s easy to see how geothermal systems are producing significant savings for 23 SOPS and the Air Force, but Henderson says they’re proving beneficial in other ways as well, from decreasing maintenance costs to creating a safer environment and improving security at the station.

“We wanted to invest in more sustainable energy, but we also recognized a means for removing an environmental hazard,” Henderson said. “These are key steps in helping us raise our level of energy security.”

Heating oil is fuel after all, which means it’s hazardous. The tanks were in confined spaces, required maintenance and needed to be filled by fuel trucks at regular intervals.

Station leaders plan to replace traditional HVAC systems with geothermal systems at New Boston’s 10 remaining buildings as the legacy systems reach the end of their useful lives. Geothermal systems are initially more expensive to install, but Henderson said they typically pay for themselves through reduced utility costs in three to five years.

“Some people may say, ‘oh they demolished some fuel tanks, that’s nice,’” said Lt. Col. David Hanson, 23 SOPS commander. “But, when you look at it we no longer need to have them inspected to remain compliant with the state of New Hampshire. Most importantly, we no longer have to fill each with tens of thousand of dollars of fuel to heat the adjacent buildings. Geothermal is a huge win for 23 SOPS, New Boston Air Force Station and the United States Air Force.”

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