Underground movement: Supervisors discuss geothermal impact on Warwick Twp. wells

By on March 26, 2014

Fluctuating fuel costs on the heels of a rough winter has prompted some to explore alternative means of heating their homes.

WarwickTownship resident Tim Miller recently addressed township supervisors on their denial of his permit to install geothermal heating at his home. Citing undisclosed health issues with his wife, as well as a worn out heating system in need of replacement, Miller was puzzled why others seeking permission to install such a system were granted the go-ahead, yet he was not.

“You are in the well head protection zone,” said township manager Dan Zimmerman.

But there may be hope for the Millers.

“In considering your application, we called and spoke with DEP (PA Department of Environmental Protection), and if this is a sealed system there may be a way to work this out.”

Zimmerman explained that the township’s well head protection ordinance is vital to water safety, especially with older type geothermal systems that inject chemicals into the ground. However, newer systems do not pose this threat.

Geothermal heating and cooling systems take advantage of the stable temperature underground using a piping loop. Water circulates to exchange heat between your home and a ground source heat pump. Such systems, which are becoming competitively priced, can cut heating, cooling and hot water costs by up to 80 percent. This is possible because the ground absorbs nearly half of the solar energy our planet receives. The earth remains at a constant, moderate temperature just below its surface all year. Meanwhile, air temperature fluctuates seasonally.

Now, newer systems can do this without injecting any chemicals that could affect local water sources.

“It’s not that we are against geothermal,” Zimmerman said. “We just needed to follow the ordinance. We surely don’t want to discourage it. It just may be time to review the info from DEP.”

Zimmerman said the township is blessed with a large water supply that has been dye tested to assure the veracity of the zone’s boundaries. Miller pointed out that while the system may need to drill 400 feet into the ground, it is not so much a well as a casing that is inserted into the hole.

The challenge is to develop a solution in a timely manner. Miller said he has contractors ready to do the work now, but a township delay could be compounded as contractors head into their busy season. To have the zoning hearing board consider this as waiver would cost the homeowner an additional $400. But if the township considers revising the current code, that could take several months.

Zimmerman said he would look into the matter further with help from DEP and report back to the homeowner as quickly as possible. He pointed out that the township had approved other geothermal systems, but those were not in the protected region. In addition, he has been in conversation with WarwickSchool District, which is also considering installing geothermal systems.

Township zoning officer Tom Zorbaugh pointed out that, according to DEP standards, drilling down 20 feet or less does not create a problem. Beyond that there could be an issue depending on what is inside the closed loop system.

Supervisors were sympathetic to Miller’s plight, with several asking questions to assure they understood the issue. Chairman Logan Myers suggested it be reviewed at the March 26 zoning meeting and asked that consideration be advertised with the board’s meeting.

No state permit is needed to install a geothermal system, only the requirements of the local municipality.

In other township news, supervisors voted to approve the conditional use application for Country Home Catering. It appears the historical barn on East Newport Road will soon be a bakery, café and banquet facility. Progress on the site has been the topic of much discussion over the past several months.

Gary P. Klinger is a freelance writer who covers the WarwickTownship and Lititz Borough municipal beats for the Record Express. He welcomes your feedback via email at klingerglobal@gmail.com or Twitter @gpklinger.

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