Pipefitters work a lot in the fossil fuel industry so we think a lot about how we can transition the work we do to be carbon free. Three years ago we started looking into geothermal.
We need longer term work which is why we’re looking into these alternatives. Power plants closing down puts a lot of people out of work with nothing to replace it, and solar and wind don’t provide long-term work for our workers. It’s going to take real investments to transition from fossil fuels. The jobs that are going to be lost are good paying jobs. From our workers there’s a lot of “What’s gonna happen to us?” type thing. All the trades are trying to find ways to fit into the future.
We put in a system at our Local 455 facility because it’s the right thing to do but also because it provides stable work. This system takes an exchanger pump and places it in an aquifer, which cools the water in the summer and warms it in the winter, because the aquifer maintains a constant 50 degrees. It uses potable water, so the aquifer is protected.
The cost to drill and install this new kind of hydronic heating and cooling system is less or comparable to the cost of a chiller. It reduces air conditioning costs annually because you’re only paying to pump the water through. This system is much more cost effective than other geothermal systems – we only had to drill four wells compared to what would normally be 70 to 80. We were able to keep the parking lot intact whereas other systems would have torn the entire thing up.
I’m a 23 year member of the pipefitters union. I joined in 1998, mostly doing industrial work as a welder with 3Ms power plants and refineries. I’ve served on the Local 455 executive board and have been manager for almost 3 years
There’s a lot of talk from representatives that they want to be carbon free but they’re not building buildings any differently. They’re still extremely inefficient and dumping carbon into the air like crazy. No one is willing to put the money where they are saying.
Buildings are built every day using magic packs – those AC units on the wall – which are extremely inefficient. Mayors want to get to net zero, but there’s no requirement to do things differently. They could be using the district energy system that already exists.
Carbon free energy needs to be looked at as more than just solar and wind, starting with geothermal, otherwise known as hydronic or ground source heating and cooling.
A Green New Deal, any policy going forward looking for clean energy, whether it’s ground source heating and cooling or something else, it would help pipefitters immensely.
In Saint Paul and Minneapolis we live on top of an aquifer that could provide energy for all of our buildings, especially if we share energy between buildings, using what’s called district energy. A lot of buildings right now are being built not using their district energy system. I would like to see city ordinances requiring a transition to these ground sources systems like ours. Usually that happens in the bigger cities first. If all buildings in MN or Metro moved to ground source district energy, that would provide more work for us than the King Coal plant ever did.
We’re talking to one representative on potential bonding to implement our system in public schools. In our building we’ve achieved close to an 80% reduction in costs annually using hydronic heating and cooling. That would mean huge cost savings for taxpayers if that was implemented in all schools.
We have a big opportunity for people in our industry and your industry to have a real good partnership if we’re promoting the same ideas going forward. In the past people have thought that could never be – pipefitters and clean energy organizations – but if we’re all promoting things that are going to keep our members working then we could do great things.