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Geothermal pump helps Gundersen Lutheran towards energy independence

Published On: Jan 06 2013 03:56:45 PM CST   Updated On: Jan 06 2013 06:54:30 PM CST
LA CROSSE, Wis. -- -

The cost of health care continues to be a burden for many Americans.

It's a problem Gundersen Lutheran Health System is trying to solve by improving its energy independence.

The hospital's main strategy is geothermal heating and cooling.

Gundersen Lutheran Health System's goal is to be energy independent by 2014.

The biggest tool to get there is a geothermal heat pump system that was recently installed at the hospital's La Crosse campus.

The new Inpatient Behavioral Health Facility is the first building to use the pump for heating and cooling.

It's an underground well and pipe system that takes advantage of the mid-50's-degree temperature of the earth.

This makes it easier and ultimately more cost effective to heat and cool the building.

"The earth that we are tapping into is about 52 degrees, so we can take a lot of heat from that temperature and put it in the building. Conversely, in the summer time we can take the hot that's in the building and put it back into the 52 degrees in the ground as opposed to trying to use the air temperature outside that can be anywhere from 100 degrees down to minus 20 degrees," said Alan Eber, manager of energy independence at Gundersen Lutheran.

The pump was originally put in for the new hospital Gundersen Lutheran is building, but has enough capacity to serve the new Inpatient Behavioral Health Facility.

Staff say using sustainable energy is a key way to help the hospital save money, which means smaller bills for the patients.

"Health Care spends an enormous amount of money on heating and cooling and electricity and natural gas. It's a big chunk of what we spend our money on and being able to reduce that, we can decrease that cost for all of our patients," said Eber.

The 156 wells are buried 400 feet underneath the parking lot.

It takes a 300 ton heat pump to run the system.

Gundersen Lutheran staff says the geothermal heat pump system gets them about 80 percent of the way to their goal of energy independence.