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'The best solution': Site of geothermal system, Auburn City Hall to host workshop

City of Auburn Superintendent of Engineering Services Bill Lupien looks over the geothermal heating system at Memorial City Hall in Auburn. Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen

AUBURN — To engineer John Manning, geothermal systems were once just a good way to heat and cool buildings.

But substituting conventional heating and cooling units with geothermal systems began to feel "almost mandatory" once he started to realize their benefits for the environment.

Once an engineer for Carrier, Manning now operates two businesses in Auburn: Phoenix Energy Supply and Earth Sensitive Solutions. He's also behind the installation of the electric-driven geothermal system in Auburn's Memorial City Hall and on the campuses of Cayuga Community College and Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES.

Manning will speak to engineers and members of the public Tuesday, Nov. 19, at City Hall, where HeatSmart CNY will host a workshop on large geothermal systems. People will also be able to take a tour of the system in the South Street building.

In 2003, Manning's company installed the renewable energy system under the parking lot of City Hall. He explained that it relies on underground pipes to circulate fluid that responds to heat fluctuations in the earth.

"When that fluid is colder than the earth, the earth actually warms it up. When the fluid gets hotter than the earth, the heat dissipates into the ground," he said. "So it's sitting there acting as both a source of heat and a sink for heat."

Previously, City Hall didn't have air conditioning, and used a boiler for heating. Its steam radiators were replaced with heat pumps during the transition to geothermal energy, and the pumps allow for different temperature zones within the building, Manning said.

"One corner of the building, the person may want it 75 degrees. And in the other corner, they may want it colder. One could be in heating. The other could be in cooling," he said.

The ability to both heat and cool different areas of the same space simultaneously is another draw of geothermal systems, Manning said.

His supply and consulting businesses have helped to bring geothermal systems to buildings across the state, and he said the possibilities can be tailored to the needs of his clients. He's working on a geothermal system for the Central Association for the Blind and Visibly Impaired in Utica that can provide heating, cooling, domestic water heating, pool heating, pool cooling and snow melting.

"By listening to the customer describe how they were going to use the building — what they would like to do — it opened up the opportunity and we simply said, 'We can cool your pool.' Which I've never seen done anywhere else," Manning said.

But geothermal systems aren't only for commercial use. Manning said he's been a "student" of geothermal systems since 1982, when he installed it in his home. He also invited the public into his current home in Auburn as part of a HeatSmart CNY series of open houses at energy-efficient homes. In preparation for the open house, he made a YouTube video to explain geothermal systems.

"The electricity that's being generated somewhere to feed that heat pump can be 100% renewable, so we can achieve zero carbon emissions once we electrify our heat," he said.

Manning said it's a "daunting task" to try to transition the heating and cooling systems of homes in New York state from fossil fuels to a renewable energy source, like air-sourced heat pumps that draw from the air rather than the ground.

However, if you ask Manning, the choice is clear: "I think the best solution from a societal standpoint is geothermal," he said.

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