Installers Hope Geothermal Heats Up

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"Favorable market conditions and government subsidies fuel the industry's growth."

In 2008 when Philip Wheeler, an environmental engineer and consultant, wanted to start a geothermal installation business, he felt that a good place to set up his first system would be in his own Shrewsbury home.

"Since then it’s been great," he said.

With the economy improving and oil prices continually rising, business at Wheeler’s East Coast Geothermal in Clinton is heating up. He's averaging between 15 and 30 appointments a week, with an equal number in the pipeline.

In addition to favorable market conditions, business is also being fueled by government subsidies, including a 30% tax credit for homeowners who install a geothermal system. There’s an equivalent 10% break for businesses.

Still, there are barriers for the geothermal industry, admits Kevin Maher, president of the New England Geothermal Professional Association, a regional trade group for geothermal installers and those involved in the industry.

Simply put, geothermal installations—which use the constant temperature of the earth below ground to more efficiently heat and cool a building—are not as well known compared to other energy efficiency improvement methods.

"Geothermal is the red-headed stepchild of renewable energies," Maher said.

But people like Maher and Wheeler are trying to change that.

In part, some of the hesitation in the market regarding geothermal could be due to its high upfront costs.

While Wheeler said he can save an average customer 30%-70% off their heating and cooling bills, the payback for a consumer varies widely depending on the building's size, what kind of heat pump is required and how easy it is to dig beneath the ground.

Unlike conventional boilers or natural gas heaters, the systems use no fossil fuels.

Still, many organizations and residents across the area are embracing the technology, including Nichols College in Dudley.

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