FARMINGTON — The University of Maine at Farmington will be installing 80 geothermal wells, its largest geothermal project yet, as part of an ongoing effort to make campus energy more efficient and continue progress toward its goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035.

The University of Maine board of trustees approved spending up to $1.55 million for the project, which will be completed within the year.

Drew Barton, a biology professor and coordinator of UMF Sustainable Campus Coalition, said the coalition is working to increase how much of the campus is heated and cooled by renewable energy systems, including geothermal wells.

Geothermal heating and cooling systems, also known as ground-source heat pumps, work by using the constant temperature the ground is below the surface, according to the U.S. Department of Energy website. While areas such as Maine can have extreme swings in temperature, a few feet below the surface the Earth stays a fairly consistent temperature. The system takes advantage of this and exchanges the heat below ground.      

A University of Maine System report said the system would reduce carbon emissions by about 354 tons annually compared with oil, which is about the same amount of emissions 67 passenger cars produce in a year.

The report estimated the geothermal wells will pay for the $1.55 million cost in energy savings in eight to 10 years and will save about 28,000 gallons of oil per year. 

The wells would be on UMF’s Mantor Green and would be used to heat more than 50,000 square feet of campus facilities, including Preble and Ricker halls and Ricker Auditorium. 

The buildings are heated by an oil boiler that is around 50 years old and in need of replacement, Barton said.

He said the geothermal system also eventually could heat other buildings such as the Mantor Library, the computer center and three UMF additions on Main Street. According to the report, if all of these additional buildings were heated and cooled by the geothermal system, it would save a total of about 62,500 gallons of oil.

The first geothermal project on campus was for the Education Center. The building is run entirely by geothermal, Barton said. He said because the geothermal system is run by electricity, it would be wrong to say the building is carbon-emission-free, but he said the wells are a significant improvement from oil.

The building is similar is size and function to the space the new wells will heat and cool. Barton said because the first project has been so successful, they have high hopes for the new project.

The second geothermal project was a smaller-scale venture that helps run a swimming pool in the fitness and recreation center.

The third project heats and cools the Emery Arts Center, which, like the Education Building, is heated and cooled entirely by the wells.

The campus committed to the Climate Action Plan in 2010 with the goal of eliminating its greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 and reducing its output by 20 percent by 2015.

The plan calls for UMF to expand its use of renewable energy resources, mostly through geothermal systems. The plan also calls for the campus to consider other systems, such as solar hot water, wind and photovoltaics.

Barton said the Sustainable Campus Coalition still is awaiting the latest data to see how much it has reduced emissions so far.

Kaitlin Schroeder— 861-9252
[email protected]