Dissecting Geothermal Homes

Thursday, November 20th 2008, 7:33 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A new energy policy is expected to be a top priority of the Obama administration. It seems to be a high priority for state leaders as well. Thursday, the House Speaker unveiled another section of a comprehensive energy bill he plans to introduce next session.

Earlier the Speaker talked about increasing the number of CNG fueling stations across the state, and Thursday he was talking about increasing the number of businesses and homeowners in the state that use geothermal heating.

Homeowners like Kim Willison have only been in her new geothermal home for a month, and says already she's noticed a difference. Not in how her heating system works, but in what it costs.

Her heating bill, she says, is less than half what it was before, and has been a huge help.

"I have a daughter that's in college and I'd like to be able to help her, and that helps free my money to help her go to college," Willison said.

Willison's is one of 220 homes in Habitat For Humanity's Hope Crossing development in northeast Oklahoma City. All were built with, or are being built with geothermal heat pumps and state lawmakers hope this is just the beginning.

"What we're looking at is offering tax credits at the Legislature this year to help offset some of the costs for putting a geothermal unit into homes and businesses," Rep. Chris Benge (R) House Speaker said.

Geothermal units, which use the natural and relatively constant heat of the earth to both heat and cool buildings, cost about twice as much to install as conventional heating and cooling systems, but experts say they are more efficient and pay off, especially if you're building a new home.

"Geothermal does cost, maybe $6,000 or $7,000 more to install," Dan Ellis, CEO, Climate Master, said. "You put that in your mortgage and the payment may go up $30-$40 a month, but you can save $80 a month immediately on your energy costs, maybe up to $100."

That way, they say, the units pay for themselves in about five years and leave more cash in homeowners' pockets.

"No one wants to pay the electric company more than they have to, right?" Willison said.

So, there are several reasons why there aren't more geothermal homes such as lack of awareness, lack of contractors able to do the installs, and cost. The Speaker's plan could help with all of those, but certainly with cost, proposing a five percent tax credit for homes and businesses that install geothermal heat pumps.