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Morgan courthouse heated, cooled by unique geothermal system

Photo by Tricia Lynn Strader Water returns to Warm Springs Run after going through a heat exchanger in the courthouse, helping heat or cool the county building.
Photo by Tricia Lynn Strader
Water returns to Warm Springs Run after going through a heat exchanger in the courthouse, helping heat or cool the county building.

By Tricia Lynn Strader
Special to The Journal

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. — After many months of setbacks, the Morgan County Courthouse’s geothermal heating and cooling system was repaired this summer, and is now automated.

The energy-efficient, water-sourced heating and cooling system is different from a typical geothermal system in a commercial building. What makes it unusual is that the system uses surface water from the local stream as the energy source. It’s believed to be the only system of its kind in the state.

Simply put, water passes through a grate in the stream bed of Warm Springs Run, and into the system. A submerged pump in a pit inside the building pumps the water into a heat exchanger, where energy is exchanged with the building’s geothermal loop water. The stream water then flows back into the run through another pipe. Its temperature is changed no more than five degrees higher or lower. Stream water never mixes with anything in the building. The heat exchanger has its own water circulating throughout the building.

Water returns to Warm Springs Run after going through a heat exchanger in the courthouse, helping heat or cool the county building.

Typically, geothermal systems in commercial buildings are closed-loop underground systems with no boilers or cooling towers. This system is unique – an open-loop system because it harnesses surface water from the stream.

It uses the energy from the flowing water to run the heating and cooling systems, and disperses the water back into the stream. The boilers and cooling tower backups are only used if the water source was not at the right capacity, as in a drought or at an adequate temperature to meet building demand.

But when it was designed and installed during courthouse construction a few years ago, it had flaws. There was a startup performed in September 2010 by the contractor. It ran for about an hour. After that, it was turned off because the county did not have a special permit from the state department of environmental protection yet. When the permits were received, it ran for about 36 hours and quit running. It took months to get it operational again…

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