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St. Paul, Minnesota’s public schools are harnessing geothermal energy to reduce emissions and lower building expenses.

St. Paul Public Schools is embracing geothermal heating and cooling technology as a key strategy in its effort to modernize aging facilities while aligning with its ambitious climate action plan.

As one of the largest property holders in the city, with 73 buildings spanning over 7.7 million square feet, the district aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45% by 2030.

Thanks to advancements in technology and federal incentives, district officials are increasingly convinced that geothermal systems offer one of the most effective means of cutting emissions from school buildings. These systems operate by circulating refrigerant through a network of pipes, transferring heat between buildings and subterranean reservoirs.

Last year, the district completed the installation of a ground-source geothermal system during the renovation of Johnson High School, which dates back to the 1960s. This year, a different approach is being taken at two other schools: Bruce Vento Elementary School and the nearly century-old Hidden River Middle School. These institutions will utilize aquifer-based systems, designed by the local company Darcy Solutions, which specializes in water-based geothermal technology.

Darcy’s innovation requires significantly fewer wells compared to traditional ground-based systems, making them particularly suitable for dense urban areas. By placing heat exchangers directly into wells, the system efficiently harnesses the consistent 52-degree groundwater for heating and cooling purposes.

According to Tom Parent, the district’s executive director of operations and administration, Darcy’s system represents a significant shift in perspective. The elementary school project, for instance, necessitated only five wells, a stark contrast to the over 150 ground source wells employed at Johnson High, which disrupted outdoor activities for two consecutive summers.

“We see a lot of promise,” Parent remarked. “This is an incredible leap in technology.”

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