Ever since President Obama enacted Executive Order 13514, federal agencies have been forced to make better use of clean energy to reach a multitude of waste, pollution and water reduction goals. While there are various methods that these departments can leverage to achieve said targets, geothermal energy poses a particularly useful solution. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in particular has stayed committed to leading by example in regard to sustainability and energy performance. In recent years, the VA department has launched a number of new initiatives to build on previous green success. As a result of these efforts, the agency has been able to significantly increase efficiency while decreasing costs. Moreover, these projects provide the chance to minimize environmental damage from pollution.
A green past
In 2010, VA invested $499,612 to install a ground source heat pump system at the Northern California Health Care System in Mather, Calif. This geothermal solution provides as much as 5 percent of the facility’s annual electricity. This is just one of the renewable energy projects at VA facilities that are expected to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Later, in 2011, VA awarded several contracts worth $13.6 million for geothermal solutions at the Sierra Nevada Healthcare System in Reno, Nev., San Francisco VA Medical Center, Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw, Mich., Ann Arbor VA Healthcare System in Battle Creek, Mich., and Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis, Ind. After realizing that the aging heating and cooling systems at these facilities were inefficient, the department decided that geothermal technologies were the best option for not only heating the air in the buildings, but also the water.
…And a greener future
These VA geothermal projects are continuing to expand, mainly due to the fact that federal mandates require that 3 percent annual energy savings, in addition to 13 percent of clinics’ energy supply, come from renewable sources. The Reporter revealed that the Mare Island VA Outpatient Clinic in Vallejo, Calif., which offers primary and mental health care services to nearly 6,000 veterans a year, is one of three local clinics that will be switching to geothermal heating systems in 2014. Along with Mare Island, a clinic in both San Francisco and Martinez will also be implementing these solutions. As a result of these green updates, the facilities are hoping to cut costs for heating and cooling the buildings. Project manager Hadi Jandakhsh, who also serves as the regional energy manager, noted that it became apparent that the aging mechanical equipment needed to be swapped out with more advanced technology. One of the advantages of geothermal energy, he explained, is that the closed-loop heat-exchange system can leverage the earth’s consistent 67 degree temperature to not only heat the building during winter, but also cool it in the warmer months. He added that these technologies demand minimal maintenance and are less noisy than other alternatives. In fact, he emphasized that the geothermal system is surprisingly quiet. He expects the equipment, which should be fully installed by the end of the summer, to last for about 50 years. He’s also confident that VA will see a return on investment within eight to 10 years.