O’Brien: The Problem with RTM Resolution 13

Submitted by James J O’Brien

The proposed Resolution 13 is the most outrageous proposal by the Town of Greenwich that I have experienced in my approximate 13 years on the RTM as well as in my 35 years as a construction superintendent/engineer. I am a member of an Ad Hoc committee which includes members of the Selectman’s Energy Management Advisory Committee, EMAC. We are lobbying to approve a motion to postpone Item 13, $3.2M for a new HVAC System at Hamilton Ave School to replace the existing Geothermal Ground Source Heat pumps.

The $3.2 M request by the BET & the BOE is based on incomplete fiscal information and misstatements from the BOE Facilities Department regarding the existing Geothermal system’s failure at Ham Ave School. The truth is found in a report by the Farnsworth Group, FG, a national architectural and engineering firm with 26 offices in 11 states. They were hired by the BOE and paid $25K to analyze what went wrong with the Geothermal system at Ham Ave. To quote the report – “how the building (Ham Ave) systems are using the ground loop is the root cause of failure of the systems at the school.”

While the geothermal system should have operated year-round, Facilities turned off the geothermal system in the winter months and switched to the gas boiler, intended only as a secondary heating source (i.e., backup). FG clearly states in the report, “Ground loops work best when used to both heat and cool.”

Over time, the ground wells overheated and could no longer serve as a source of heat rejection. This resulted in the mechanical system being unable to provide the necessary summer cooling. Long-term, improper usage of geothermal technology is to blame for the failure. The Farnsworth Group recommended repairing the Geothermal – “….Recommended Option 2 builds upon the geothermal heat exchanger system and distribution that is already in place and can add resiliency, redundancy, and operational excellence….”

Geothermal ground source heat pumps are a proven, highly efficient and quite a simple system to run.

The controls tell one what’s wrong. There are presently 14 schools in Connecticut utilizing Geothermal HVAC systems for cooling and heating. More and more K12 schools are adopting this technology because of the incentives offered through the Federal Inflation Reduction Act, plus the low cost to run them for heat and AC. It is the RTM’s responsibility to understand the costs of gas vs geothermal systems – upfront costs, fuel costs, life cycle costs, operating costs, and federal incentives available.

To approve a $3.2M blank check based on false information is ludicrous. We must require the BOE to give us price comparisons especially for the recommended Geothermal system which purportedly cost a fraction of the $3.2M gas fired system, basically because the underground geothermal wells are already in place.

If you care about fiscal responsibility and our Schools please urge your RTM representative to vote to postpone Resolution 13 in order yo do the following:

Get the minimum engineering done for a concrete RFP for the two alternative HVAC systems – gas fired boiler with cooling tower/chiller cooling system and the rehabilitation costs of the existing geothermal system. It is an imperative that the EMAC be involved in the creation of the RFP and the bidding process.

James J. O’Brien is a member of RTM District 1