Herzig: State Law Prohibits It
By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Enthusiasm about municipal geothermal heating, pursued warmly last spring, has turned cool with the weather.
City Mayor Gary Herzig and Town Supervisor Bob Wood have become aware of a state Health Department regulation prohibiting placing geothermal pipes alongside drinking-water mains.
“I don’t think Egg was aware of the regulations,” said Wood. “I think he was very enthusiastic about cities using geothermal energy.” The town did not contract a feasibility study, he said, but some Southside businesses are conferring with Egg.
For Herzig, the finding came out of a $10,000 feasibility study by consultant Jay Egg that found the project unfeasible. “I certainly would never have signed a contract if I had known the purpose of the project was strongly forbidden by the state,” the mayor said.
Even before the feasibility study was complete, Herzig learned state laws make the envisioned installation impossible.
That is because the geothermal system envisioned for Oneonta would have used “potable water” from the water main in the creation and transmission of heat.
Because that poses a risk – albeit a slight one – of polluting the drinking water, the New York State Department of Health (DOH) prohibits it. Egg, a Florida consultant who keynoted the Otsego County Chamber’s Energy Summit at The Otesaga in January, at the outset didn’t believe that was so.
In the proposed geothermal heating system, heat would have been captured from water flowing through a loop at a heat exchanger, which then passes it through a pump.
“If the heat exchanger were rusting or deteriorating, the water supply could be polluted,” said Ryan Dougherty, COO at the Illinois-based Geothermal Exchange Operation, which champions geothermal systems, “even though the risk of it happening is small.”
Herzig said he had “good conversations” with the DOT, but “safe drinking water is paramount,” he said.
After the contract was signed in April, Egg told the mayor New York State has “extensive, detailed regulations” about municipal geothermal, but that those regulations would be re-examined or overturned.
Asked about what happened in an email, Egg replied the he believed there was “implied approval based on the DEP” – the state Department of Environmental Conservation – “approving the test.” The email did not specify the test.
Recalling January’s energy summit, Herzig said “Jay Egg was showing slides of installations and had one specifically showing the use of city water mains to generate geothermal heat.
“The facilities manager saw the slides, too, and he and I spoke to (City Engineer) Greg Mattice about installing geothermal heating when we did the South Main water main project.”
If the city could lay the pipes needed for generating geothermal energy as workers replaced South Main Street’s water main, it would be much less expensive and having to dig a 200-400 feet well and install a separate loop. And Fox Hospital was interested in being an end user of the new geothermal system.
Herzig said the city had received a draft of Egg’s report on the feasibility study “30 to 60 days ago.” The city will return the draft with comments and Egg will deliver a final report, which will then be given to Common Council and made public.
Herzig said the draft report had “a wide range of geothermal possibilities throughout the city,” but “would require significant investment and are not possible right now.”
“There are potential future actions the city can take and that hopefully will be of some value,” he said.