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The county's new jail will go green with a geothermal energy heating and cooling system.

Engineers plan to drill hundreds of wells into the ground and use its geothermal properties to heat and cool the new 672-bed jail on Southwest 40th Street.

Here's how it will work:

Water will be circulated through a matrix of 300-foot deep wells as part of a closed-loop system. In summer, warm water will be cooled as it moves through plastic pipes. That's because the ground has a constant temperature of about 55 degrees. In the winter, cool water will be warmed by the temperature of the ground.

Natural gas will be available but used only in the kitchen - not for heating or cooling.

The system - similar to a heat pump - will result in an annual energy savings of 25 to 30 percent, compared to a conventional mechanical system, said Krishna Amancherla, project manager for the District Energy Corporation.

Don Killeen, the county property manager, said the savings could be higher. He points to the success of similar systems used at a handful of schools and businesses in the city.

The District Energy Corporation, or DEC, is a nonprofit entity that provides innovative, efficient and low-cost utility services to facilities owned by the city, county and state.

Formed in 1989, it is providing energy to the State Office Building, Capitol, K Street Records Facility, County/City Building, Governor's Mansion, current county jail, Hall of Justice, the Court House Plaza Building and, soon, the 900 J Building.

In all, it serves nearly 1.5 million square feet of space.

The new jail, scheduled to be completed in late 2011, will be its biggest project, said Amancherla, also a senior engineer for the Lincoln Electric System.

Amancherla wears two hats because LES is the contractor for the geothermal energy project and will operate and maintain it. The system, designed to last more than 75 years, will be the largest ever built for a jail in the U.S., he said.

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It's not yet known how many wells will be needed, though the site has room for about 855, Amancherla said. The DEC will install up to 725 wells on a 6.5-acre wellfield first and have 1.25 acres left for expansion.

Total cost of the wellfield is estimated at between $2.5 million and $3 million, Amancherla said.

But there will be millions of dollars in other costs, too.

The DEC will build an energy plant building and a network of utility pipes and wiring. It also wants to install three 1.8-megawatt emergency diesel generators to provide full backup power to the jail, the energy plant building and the community, if necessary.

The DEC will issue bonds to cover the cost of the project, Killeen said. Those bonds will be separate from those issued for the jail.

The jail will be a big energy user because it will be operating 24/7.

To reduce some of the energy costs, Amancherla said, domestic hot water will be pre-heated and recovered, the laundry will use an ozone treatment system that also saves hot water, sensors will adjust indoor lighting based on daylight coming into the building, and high-efficiency exhaust hoods will be used in the kitchen and laundry.

Killeen said the geothermal facility also could provide heating and cooling energy for private businesses in the area.

Because of all the renewable energy components, the DEC will try to get some federal stimulus money for the geothermal facility and other energy-conservation measures of the project, Killeen said.

The timing is right, Killeen said, because the project is "shovel-ready" and will be built at the same time as the new jail.

Dirt work for the jail is scheduled to begin in early July and the DEC plans to have its geothermal energy project ready to provide heat in October/November 2011.

Reach Algis J. Laukaitis at (402) 473-7243 or alaukaitis@journalstar.com.

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