Geothermal Energy Comes to Michigan’s State Capitol Building

By Chuck Otto, USGBC-WM Staff Writer

The Michigan Capitol in Lansing is in the midst of a conversion of its heating and cooling system to geothermal energy.

The geothermal renovation is part of a two-year, $70 million project known as the Capitol Infrastructure Upgrade (CIU), an effort designed to bring the 138-year-old building into the 21st Century. Earlier this year, Midwest Energy News reported that building officials have labored to keep up with “the deterioration of the building’s insides caused by antiquated heating and cooling controls.” The initiative follows a recent renovation of the building’s exterior.

The Michigan State Capitol Commission (MSCC) started studying the Capitol’s infrastructure problems early in 2016 in response to numerous leaks and failures throughout the building and subbasement. The laundry list of problems included corroded electrical boxes, leaking pipes, heating and cooling units simultaneously blowing warm and cold air, and improper wiring.

“The decision to proceed with geothermal to heat and cool the Capitol was made for a variety of reasons, with economics being a major factor,” says Tim Bowlin, CFO and project manager for the MSCC. “Originally, the engineers we hired to review our mechanical and electrical problems and needs made a recommendation to look at the possibility of using geothermal.”

After performing test bores on the site to see if geothermal was a viable option, the Commission proceeded to look at the other factors, including economics. By choosing geothermal, the MSCC determined that “We will realize approximately $250,000 to $300,000 savings annually,” Bowlin says. “It will take us about seven years to repay the investment in the geothermal field. After that, all the savings will be fully realized by the State.” The geothermal wells have a 50-year guarantee, but Bowlin anticipates they will last “100-plus years.”

Approximately 224 individual bores will be drilled to a depth of 500 feet below the state Capitol lawn. The holes will house vertical-loop piping to pump vegetable-grade glycol fluid deep underground, where it will be naturally heated or cooled then circulated throughout the building.

By the end of the project, the Capitol will have an all new heating and cooling system, and the bulk of the building’s mechanical equipment will be relocated to a new underground Central Utility Plant (CUP). In addition to the geothermal upgrade, leaking sprinkler heads will be fixed, and corroded electrical boxes and wiring will be replaced.

The Michigan Capitol joins a growing list of state government buildings nationwide, including those in Oklahoma, Colorado and soon Nebraska, that have converted to geothermal.

The conversion will mean “utility independence, cost savings and clean, green energy,” Bowlin tells us. “Closed-loop geothermal systems are safe, efficient, long-lasting and a good economic investment. The decision to proceed with geothermal was a sound decision for the State of Michigan.”

We agree. Geothermal is among the most efficient energy sources on the market today. Kudos to Tim Bowlin, the MSCC and the others driving this project for making the clean, sustainable choice for the Michigan State Capitol building.