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Posted on Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 10:16 a.m.

Recent geothermal energy project may inspire more systems in downtown Ann Arbor

By Paula Gardner

Downtown officials and the company behind an ambitious effort to add geothermal heat to a commercial building in Kerrytown hope the project will inspire similar alternative energy retrofits on a shared system in Ann Arbor.

The work was concluded in late 2011 at the Marketplace Building at 303 Detroit Street, where MAV Development built a system that uses the Earth’s temperature for heating and cooling about 13,000 square feet of offices.


Well-boring equipment at the geothermal installation on Detroit Street.

From MAV Development

MAV also owns the building, and launched the effort in 2010 when it identified the property as one likely to benefit from the process.

“We wanted to find out what it would be like to do this in an urban environment,” said Jeff Harshe of MAV. “We knew we’d be site-constrained and we knew we’d have to go under the road to reach the building.”

While some homes and at least one other commercial building — owned by A2C3 architects — have added geothermal systems in the city, MAV’s effort resulted in what they believe will become standard practices as the city fields additional requests.

“Part of what we were doing is trying to understand how to do a project like this so we can better do this in the future,” Harshe said.

The geothermal system at the Marketplace Building starts underground in a lot north of Argiero's Restaurant, running under the brick pavement of Detroit Street to reach the building.

Aspects like crossing a public right-of-way with the underground pipes, liability and ongoing maintenance of the pipes under roadways concerned city staff as they researched and finalized the agreements, Harshe said.

The Downtown Development Authority, which funded part of the effort through its Energy Program, also played a role.

“I’m intrigued about its potential to make downtown even more of a sustainable center,” said Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA.


MAVDevelopment Vice Presidents Mark Melchi, center left, and Michael Genrich, center right, look at the existing heating system in the ground floor of the office/retail buildings at 303 Detroit Street in Kerrytown with Mannik & Smith civil engineer Mark Borgman, far left, and Joe Schwartz, right, a mechanical engineer from Strategic Energy Solutions. files

With the work at 303 Detroit Street completed in the fall, MAV starts 2012 with a newly formed business, Urban Geothermal Partners, ready to bring its expertise from the project to other building owners downtown.

One concept involves forming a geothermal district over several blocks of downtown to bring efficiencies of scale to multiple building owners.

“There are a few places where this could work,” Pollay said, citing the downtown’s alleyways as likely routes for the geothermal piping.

Harshe wouldn’t say how much the installation cost. Eleven 600-foot wells support the 150,000 BTU system, and previous estimates pegged each “bore” at about $6,000 each. The system also includes a heat pump.

The DDA contribution was among $650,000 spent in the first three years of the program that offered free energy audits and matching grants of up to $20,000 to make improvements.

The payback for geothermal installations comes over time, both Harshe and Pollay said. That makes sense for building owners who also are open to a long-term investment that lowers annual energy costs and will end up paying for itself.

“It’s incredible that just the ground underneath us can heat and cool a building,” Harshe said. “And very efficiently.”


geo guy

Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 7:31 p.m.

Here's a great program for any Ann Arbor small business to consider: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Jennifer Melchi

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 9:41 p.m.

Congratulations on a job well done MAVDevelopment!! It takes collaboration to grow the future, and it's time people start figuring out how to tap into alternate sources of energy!!

geo guy

Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 7:29 p.m.

I second the congratulations to MAV on a job well done. It took a lot of patience and tenacity to make this happen.


Tue, Jan 3, 2012 : 1:12 p.m.

This thing has more holes in it than swiss cheese ...$ 10 a foot for the well ?, someone is blowing smoke up a dark place or it's being additionally subsidised by washington or ???? no wonder they won&quot;t put down the cost's...interesting how all the &quot; green &quot; projects get the fast track , but try and get a sewer or road or bridge fixed and you have more hurdles than a track meet..also nice that the DDA takes your overpriced parking fees and spends it on this pie in the sky BS..that building will have been long gone before this systems pays for itself...If the DDA wants a truly cheap and effective source of heat just put a masssive heat sink in council chambers and while your at it a couple wind turbines so all that hot air could be put to good use....

geo guy

Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 7:28 p.m.

The geothermal ground heat exchanger will be there long after you and I leave this planet. It will be there for the life of this building and perhaps even the next building.


Tue, Jan 3, 2012 : 2:09 a.m.

&quot;Harshe wouldn't say how much the installation cost. &quot; If he told you the cost it would blow the whole &quot;green Concept&quot; and the ROI (Return on Investment) would be 30 years plus. Why would anybody who has a brain consider one of these projects except for the fact that it makes you feel good?

geo guy

Fri, Jan 20, 2012 : 7:26 p.m.

I can show you examples where the simple payback is less than five years. I agree that it does make you feel good when you see how little you are paying to heat and cool a home or commercial building.


Tue, Jan 3, 2012 : 2:03 a.m.

hut hut, et al., First off, I am not anti-geothermal. I just think it is disingenuous to hype all of the savings and sustainability of a system and then refuse to answer the question of how much it cost to install it. I have looked into geo-thermal and plan to eventually install it in my home. I have learned that there are many large up-front costs, and some othe costs which will be maintained over the lifetime of the system. To simply throw out something like &quot;But if the building and the ventilation system is well designed it will cost far less to operate than any fuel fired heating system available today...&quot; is pretty misleading and vague. Sure, the OPERATIONAL cost for the season may be lower, but when you factor in the GIGANTIC up front costs of installation and prep, this is only true if you extrapolate your figures over a very long time. People seem to forget that geo-thermal has HUGE up front costs as well as the cost of running wells, pumps, fans, etc. It doesn't simply run on good wishes and happy thoughts. I think that geo-thermal is great as far as reducing the money you spend on fossil fuels, but the discussion about actual costs needs to be honest from the start.


Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 9:41 p.m.

The DDA has an energy grant program that is available to downtown businesses and building owners. They have grants to pay for energy audits for buildings, and matching grants to help with energy efficiency improvements. It looks like a good deal for downtown businesses. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 7:45 p.m.

Kind of hard to get excited about how efficient, sustainable, and cost saving the project is when they won't say how much it cost to install, how much it will cost to run, and how much was subsidized by the DDA and others.

hut hut

Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 11:30 p.m.

That's what the tables for heat load and loss are for and local contractors can tell you better than anyone here. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> You can calculate your heat loss/load to find out how many btu's are needed to heat and cool your home. From that you can figure your costs based on the relative prices of whatever form of energy you choose. It's not rocket science or the lottery.


Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 10:37 p.m.

How much will my heating and cooling costs be for a 2000 sq foot home? If you can answer that question without knowing a lot of other factors you should start playing the lottery

hut hut

Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 10:29 p.m.

You conveniently didn't include the long term cost savings and lessened environmental impact. You also didn't include the number of jobs that require a higher skill set to perform, like making and servicing the computer operated equipment. All of these things are the wave of the future. You either get on board or get left behind. Much of what you ask is dependent on how the system is used. It will cost more if the a/c is set to 65 and the heat set to 85. But if the building and the ventilation system is well designed it will cost far less to operate than any fuel fired heating system available today. Have you ever heard of the phrase, &quot;Pay once, cry once&quot;? If you cheap out on mechanical systems, it will definitely cost more in the long run thru fuel, service and replacement costs. I just don't understand why people have to be so negative and find fault with even the best ideas, intentions and acts.


Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 6:56 p.m.

When heating oil and other fossil fuels hit the tipping edge then the anti green crowd will be shouting for some form of help to defray costs. We need to get behind industries that are developing new sources of energy and participate if possible by purchasing their products. I plan on purchasing a small gutter mounted wind mill for my home.

Wolf's Bane

Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 6:14 p.m.

Ann Arbor loves MAV Development!!! Seriously, what a great news to start the year. All the best.

average joe

Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 5:54 p.m.

&quot;Eleven 600-foot wells support the 150,000 BTU system, ....&quot; Numbers must be wrong here. It takes 11 wells to produce 150,000 BTU system?

hut hut

Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 7:18 p.m.

No, if the building design meets or exceeds current codes and engineering practices and the heat load/loss is 150 kbtu, 11 wells is about right. With a relatively constant earth temp of 55 degrees, there are about 20 - 30 degrees of heat above freezing and more if the transfer fluid is brine or added anti freeze, to efficiently extract from the warm earth, available 24/7 - 365, if you have the electricity to power the compressors and blowers. Those 20-30 degrees are in addition to an already warmed interior air. Add solar and/or wind and battery storage and you're off the grid.

hut hut

Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 6:52 p.m.

One &quot;ton&quot; of A/C is 12,000 btu's. Spending more on building efficiency means spending less on the heating/cooling system.


Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 6:17 p.m.

I recently had a system installed in my old farm house. While doing researching on geothermal I found that for verticle wells in residential applications they normally require one well per ton. How tons convert to BTUs I am not sure. The efficiencies are seen because the ground is at a constant 55 or so degrees where as your typical air conditioner is trying to do the most work when the &quot;cooling air&quot; for the coils is 90 + degrees. Finally, yes in the winter it is an air conditioner in reverse but again with a nearly constant source of warmth from the ground. In July which was one of the hottest ever my cooling of about 2300 square feet of old farm house and hot water for three ran $75. The systems are expensive going in but should pay in the 5 to 8 years.


Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 5:40 p.m.

"It's incredible that just the ground underneath us can heat and cool a building," Harshe said. "And very efficiently." &quot;The system also includes a heat pump.&quot; A heat pump runs on electricity. It is a fancy name for an air conditioner running &quot;backwards&quot;.


Tue, Jan 3, 2012 : 4:54 a.m.

@arther; Please point out in the article where it said it would require electricity to run? That's my point.


Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 6:58 p.m.

He also said it heats so you get two for the price of one.


Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 6:33 p.m.

Yeah, but what's your point? He said the system is efficient, not that it operates magically without any running costs whatsoever.

Kai Petainen

Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 5:20 p.m.

after all the $$ that went into the library lot... did they put geothermal systems down there?


Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 4:29 p.m.

This was a private entity seeking to do this to a private building. The DDA shouldn't have funded them any money.

Joe Kidd

Tue, Jan 3, 2012 : 2:29 a.m.

I agree. I am fundamentally against any govt funding to &quot;green&quot; efforts. I think they discriminate. For example, when the President came out with the &quot;cash for clunkers&quot; program, people trading in and buying a fuel efficient car in exchange for dumping your car that got an average consumption of 18 mpg. What that did was reward people who did the bad thing. My wife was driving a beat up Honda that got 30 mpg. No gift for doing the right thing, just for doing bad. The $7500 gift for buying electric is phony too. At $41000 only fairly rich folk can afford a Chevy Volt. Why give them a bonus? Why not someone buying a gas car that gets 30 to 35 mpg? Same with these geothermal systems. If you can afford them with the gift tax money, you can afford them without it.

Bryson Samuelson

Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 3:41 p.m.

Geo Thermal will absolutely pay itself back overtime. I guess the city could the money in to some low income program that will never yield a single cent back to the tax payers. Did you know a Geothermal plant produces the lowest cost per KWH of any source of energy currently available...including Nuclear and Hydro. Yet, all we hear about is how we should be opening more coal plants.

Joe Kidd

Tue, Jan 3, 2012 : 2:21 a.m.

I recently spoke with someone about these and was told that they only provide a home with a winter temp of about 55 degrees, so to increase the heat you still need a supplemental system. Is this true? AMOC confirms what I have concluded, they are just too expensive, long run savings or not for most people to install them. Also, the many years it takes to break even are so long you may never see the savings, if for example you move from the home. That leads me to wonder if they add value to a home in the event of a sale. If not, then a buyer might certainly benefit from a home with one of these.


Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 9:42 p.m.

Bryson - I think you mean to say that geothermal is cheaper per BTU, not kWH. I have owned a ground water geothermal system for 20 years now, and while it is cheaper than running a central AC system for our house, it would cost us more than natural gas does to use it to heat the house. The heat transfer unit alone cost us roughly 10X what a similarly-sized AC would have, plus an additional several thousand dollars for installation. Also, since we are using well water, the system requires electricty to run pumps and fans, about 60% as much electricity as a standard air conditoning system does. Without the state and Federal tax credits available when we installed it, the system would still not have broken even vs. a standard AC unit. AS it is, we broke even aft

5c0++ H4d13y

Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 6:17 p.m.

It depends on how much it costs to install and maintain. Fitting it into a small footprint is hard and expensive. Putting one on new construction with larger acreage is easy and cost efficient.


Mon, Jan 2, 2012 : 1:45 a.m.

That underground parking lot on the library lot should have &quot;intrigued&quot; Pollay to install a huge geothermal system for the library and any other building that goes up on top of it. Then it could have been used as an incentive for a developer who was actually willing to invest their own money instead of the Ann Arbor taxpayers' money.