Westar installing geothermal climate-control system at new service center

Workers with Evans Energy Development, Paola, drill wells Wednesday for an energy-saving geothermal climate-control system at Westar Energy's new service center, 746 E. 27th St. in Lawrence. At right is Pat Tryon, project architect for Westar Energy.

Officials at Westar Energy are pumping a little extra money into a new service center in Lawrence, with plans to save energy – and money – in the years ahead.

The Topeka-based utility, which provides electric service in Lawrence and elsewhere in Kansas, is including a geothermal climate-control system for its new $7 million service center, now being built at 746 E. 27th St.

The geothermal system will take advantage of heating and cooling capabilities buried beneath the Earth’s surface. The system starts with a series of 42 wells, which are narrow holes bored 200 feet below the surface.

Even narrower plastic pipes are run down the length of each hole, and then extended back up to the surface, to create a closed loop that connects with a compressor at the service center.

Up to 1,000 gallons of water then is put into the pipes, to be circulated continuously. The water is used to control the temperature of a coil, which will be used to control the service center’s office area.

Blowing air across the coil will create cool air during summer and warm air during winter.

Financially, the system will eliminate the need for a traditional air conditioner or a traditional furnace. Electric bills will be reduced to the point that the system’s added up-front cost should be recovered within seven years, perhaps as early as five.

Officials at Westar say that they are including the geothermal system at the Lawrence service center to demonstrate leadership in using energy efficiently, a goal for the utility.

Electric usage is increasing faster than population growth, Westar’s Paul Heitkotter said, and encouraging conservation and efficiency could help the utility defer its need for building a new power plant in the future.

Also, such efficiency can help customers save money, especially as the utility pursues approval of a rate increase with the Kansas Corporation Commission, said Laura Lutz, an account manager for energy efficiency.