Geothermal Power for Low-Income Home Owners

August 12th, 2008 by Editor B

And now I’m gonna pass the mic to my friend David, a New Orleanian living up in the great white north, because he has a proposal worthy of your consideration:

I’ve proposed an idea on the American Express’ Members Project which could be a tremendous boon to low-income home owners in New Orleans. See it here. However, the project needs as many people as possible to vote for it (or “nominate it” in AmEx-ease).

The project is called “Geothermal Power for Low-Income Home Owners.” Geothermal is a proven, carbon-free means of cooling and heating homes and water heaters. The idea behind this project is that it would address several needs at once: global warming, financial insecurity during a period of record foreclosures and energy costs, and of course New Orleans’ recovery.

But as I said, the project needs a show of public support, and that’s where you come in. Anyone can vote for it. If you don’t have an AmEx card, simply use a Guest login. And if you like the project, please help spread the word about it.

If the proposal becomes a finalist, it stands to get between $100K and $1.5 million. I have nominated Global Green to be the managing organization. So, please, get to nominating.

Again, the link to David’s proposal is here.

Update: David switched the managing organization to The Green Project.

19 Responses to “Geothermal Power for Low-Income Home Owners”

  1. Lee Says:

    I nominated as soon as I read. Geothermal is a great means to lower the carbon footprint of this country. I seriously considered it when purchasing a new system for my home. The biggest problem is installation in an existing home. It increases the cost by up to 25%.

    The biggest thing I’ve learned in my 2 years of home ownership is that we must do more than just “live” to help ourselves and the next generation.

    Things like this are the start.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Global Green is a grossly inefficient, very problematic organization. please ask your friend to choose another.

  3. David Says:

    Thanks Lee.

    The way that I envisioned the project is its targeting (non-exclusively) Habitat for Humanity homeowners for several reasons. First, aside from Habitat homes, “low-income home owners” is a bit of an oxymoron. (I wasn’t allowed to mention Habitat in the proposal, though.) Second, in Habitat lots like the Musicians’ Village, the project could achieve some economies of scale. Third, if the project was a success, perhaps Habitat would be open to making geothermal part of their standard construction. My understanding is that geothermal pays for itself in 10 years (whereas solar takes 25). That means, in 10 years, the home owners would be achieving an even greater level of financial independence as well.

    Though let me point out that my ideas in that paragraph are not binding to the project itself. Those specifics would be determined by the managing organization.

  4. David Says:

    Also, with Habitat, we might get more geothermal for the money by targeting pending constructions rather than focusing on retro-fitting.

  5. David Says:

    Which organization would you suggest?

  6. Lee Says:

    David, we have something somewhat similar to what your proposal is like already, it’s called EverGreen Village. Check it out

    http://bloomington.in.gov/sections/viewSection.php?section_id=51

    While they do not use geothermal, they use solar to help generate electricity for heat, water, and electricty usage.

    The homes are also LEED certified.

  7. David Says:

    That’s really cool, Lee.

    I view geothermal as one component that will make individual homes self-sufficient in terms of energy. Obviously, it won’t meet all your energy needs, but it will address a major energy need, making solar and wind that much more viable.

  8. anon Says:

    who should administer the geo-thermal? i have thought about this seriously and of the environmental groups can only recommend Sierra Club, although they would have to agree to expand their focus beyond Holy Cross.

    although many don’t like them, ACORN does work with homeowners in need.

    post-k here in nola i learned the phrase ‘eco-opportunist’ watching GG in action, among others.

  9. Schroeder Says:

    In agreement with anonymous about Global Green. It ain’t for nothing that Brad Pitt decided to part ways with them. It’s demonstrated poor administration in New Orleans. The green house was only built as an attempt to raise the stature of Global Green, not to actually build affordable green houses. Global Green could have spent resources more wisely creating a warehouse of green rebuilding supplies, but there’s no glamour in that.

  10. Schroeder Says:

    By the way, while this idea sounds good initially, I’ve heard there can be problems with these systems. They require lots of plumbing, pumps, and other expensive equipment. When this stuff fails, the repairs can be extremely expensive (know any geothermal maintenance people?) That may or may not be the best thing for low income people, all depending upon the savings to cost ratio.

  11. David Says:

    Here http://www.ornl.gov/sci/femp/pdfs/ORNL_CON-460.pdf is a link to a Department of Energy (the Clinton, not Bush, administration DOE) study on wide-spread implementation of geothermal (in Louisiana, no less). It highly recommends the economic benefits of geothermal, including the cost of maintenance. Since the users would not pay the costs of cooling and heating their homes and heating their water, I’m sure those savings would more than offset whatever repairs they would experience.

    But really, there’s nothing especially exotic about a geothermal set-up. One consists of: Plumbing under the ground, whose installation would be covered by the program should it win. A heat pump. And a ventilation system. I don’t know why such equipment would be more temperamental than conventional AC/heating systems.

  12. Schroeder Says:

    Geothermal does require drilling very deep — and we’re talking about land that subsides. Also note that the heat transfer requires a pump. Pumps require electricity. How sustainable or affordable that is should be questioned. You don’t have to talk to many people to find critics of the way Global Green handled itself post-Katrina.

    Here’s another suggestion which isn’t as sexy but would provide more bang for the buck: radiant barriers, weatherstripping, and changing light bulbs to florescents. The biggest problem with cooling is the attic, where temperatures can reach 150 degrees. Reducing that heat, and keeping it away from the house, is the best way to conserve energy no matter what kind of system is used.

    A suggestion for an alternative organization is one that residents of the Lower Nine and Holy Cross created themselves: The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development. The great advantage of using them is that the money goes straight to the people who won’t be tied to one solutions, but they themselves will get to decide what the best solutions are that work for them.

    http://www.helpholycross.org/2008/01/sustain-the-nin.html

    http://www.idealist.org/en/org/174147-219

  13. David Says:

    Shroeder,

    When you say “land that subsides,” what are you talking about?

    I’m sorry the empirical evidence of the benefit of geothermal as documented by the Department of Energy wasn’t sufficient for you.

    I agree that the measures you describe are worthwhile; I’ve done all of them. However, here’s why I focused on geothermal and not those measures. All those measures are relatively inexpensive. Practically anyone can afford to do them if they’re so inclined. Geothermal has a significant, up-front cost. The purpose of this program would be to offer it to people who wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise. If you would like to create a Members Project like the one you described, you’re welcomed to do so.

    With this project, I’ve tried to offer something constructive to the city. Thank you for your fatuous criticism of it.

  14. anon Says:

    David, I am a moderate-income homeowner in Mid-City who would be THRILLED to have help to install geo-thermal with my neighbors.

    THRILLED. Thanks!

  15. Jon Konrath Says:

    I read the report, and had a few issues, which may be my own stupidity or lack of knowledge of the area:

    1) How do you dig ~200 foot shafts in a city that’s below sea level? I know the study talked about Fort Polk in LA, but that’s about 300 feet higher and further from the water.

    2) Unless I missed it, the study doesn’t take into account initial installation cost. Last I checked, it costs about $12 a foot to drill a well in many places, which adds up.

    3) It also doesn’t mention environmental tradeoffs. Drilling trucks run on gas. Geothermal pipe is a petroleum product, the same exact substance as grocery bags everyone’s trying to ban, and this requires burying tons of the stuff in the water table. Open-loop systems produce a huge amount of waste water to be processed. Closed-loop systems use toxic antifreeze. There are a lot of things that aren’t mentioned here.

    I think geothermal is an interesting option, but it’s only viable in about 10% of our country, and I think New Orleans might not be in that 10%.

  16. Schroeder Says:

    “fatuous criticism”

    Sure David. That’s what it was. I’m sorry you’re so afraid your idea can’t stand up to a little fact-checking. Why not respond to the suggestion I made that money go straight to an organization which already has been studying options and surveying residents to see what they really want? I think Geothermal is a fantastic idea, and yes, I read the Fort Polk study. Sounds like a great idea — for Fort Polk. I think you can’t force people to do something, even if it’s the right something. They have to be given the freedom to decide what’s best for themselves, in their particular circumstances.

  17. David Says:

    Jon Konrath,

    “1) How do you dig ~200 foot shafts in a city that’s below sea level?”
    Most of New Orleans isn’t below sea level. (I’ll refer you to the July-20th interview with John Barry, noted scholar on the subject: http://feeds.kcrw.com/kcrw/ls) But whatever the elevation, do you know of any information that states drilling such shafts aren’t feasible in the city?
    “2) Unless I missed it, the study doesn’t take into account initial installation cost.”
    The installation costs would be covered by the program, so that wouldn’t be a concern to home owners. When a home owner does pay for geothermal installation, it typically takes ten years for the energy savings to offset the cost of installation.
    “3) It also doesn’t mention environmental tradeoffs. Drilling trucks run on gas.”
    Unfortunately, any construction project has a carbon footprint. Perhaps that will be minimized over time.
    “Geothermal pipe is a petroleum product, the same exact substance as grocery bags everyone’s trying to ban,”
    That’s true. However, people want to ban the bags as a disposable product, because they don’t break down. This durability should suit their function in the geothermal application.
    “and this requires burying tons of the stuff in the water table.”
    Well, far from tons of pipes, and again, polyethylene is noted for its durability.
    “Open-loop systems produce a huge amount of waste water to be processed.”
    The information I have is that an open-loop system would return the water to the aquifer. Here’s a video describing the configuration: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lD82e5RYfW8
    “Closed-loop systems use toxic antifreeze.”
    The video mentioned an environmentally friendly coolant, but I wish it had been more specific.
    “I think geothermal is an interesting option, but it’s only viable in about 10% of our country,”
    I would be very interested to see the analysis behind the 10% figure.

  18. David Says:

    Schroeder,
    “I’m sorry you’re so afraid”
    Wow. That sounds like a personal attack.
    “your idea can’t stand up to a little fact-checking.”
    I welcome any facts about geothermal’s viability in New Orleans. Unfortunately, you haven’t presented any facts.
    Initially you offered hearsay: “I’ve heard there can be problems with these systems.” I responded with a government study conducted in south Louisiana that pointed out geothermal’s savings in maintenance as well as energy.
    Your response was some vague hand-waving about “land that subsides” and the fact that the geothermal equipment uses electricity. When I asked you to clarify what you meant about “land that subsides,” you didn’t. The report I referred you to found a 42% energy savings after the installation of geothermal.
    “Why not respond to the suggestion I made that money go straight to an organization which already has been studying options and surveying residents to see what they really want?”
    The third paragraph of my last comment to you did exactly that.
    “you can’t force people to do something, even if it’s the right something.”
    That’s exactly what I’m talking about–forcing people to do something–the same way Habitat for Humanity forces people to move into their houses, or the way the Green Project forces people to buy their discounted building supplies, or the way the NO AIDS Task Force forces people to take HIV tests.
    This kind of rhetorical tactic is embarrassing, but it’s consistent with your subtext that my proposal was something being foisted on the people of New Orleans.
    So, fatuous? Yes, among other things. But you can take comfort in the fact that my project hasn’t caught on and almost certainly won’t advance. On the Members Project site there are five proposals concerned with New Orleans. B just linked to the clear leader on his blog, and it’s likely to advance. That project was started by Global Green.

  19. Schroeder Says:

    You seem pretty sure of yourself. You must be right.

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