Geothermal Program Makes Sense for Members

Cory and Lisa Matheny were shopping for a new heating and cooling system for their fixer-upper home in Bloomington, Illinois, and had two choices. Should they go with a conventional, but top-end, HVAC system? Or should they spend more upfront on a geothermal heat pump that promised big savings down the road?

But then an HVAC vendor told the Matheny’s about GeoCents, a new geothermal program from their electric cooperative, Corn Belt Energy Corp. Their decision was made and the couple signed up to be the first participants.

“We learned that the final out-of-pocket cost would have been less if we went with geothermal than with the highest-efficiency HVAC system. It was a no-brainer,” said Cory Matheny, a firefighter and paramedic for the city of Bloomington.

Through Corn Belt Energy’s GeoCents program, the Matheny’s final out-of-pocket cost will be $7,100 for a $21,600 geothermal heating and cooling system. Savings, in part, came from a rebate from Wabash Valley Power Association in Indianapolisand a 30 percent federal tax credit.

“And that’s not factoring in the energy savings” of 40 percent or higher each month, said Justin Stuva, marketing and member services manager at Corn Belt Energy. “It’s like having a sports car for the cost of a family sedan.”

But what really knocked down the price is a GeoCents feature offsets the most expensive part of the technology: installation of the underground loops used in the heating and cooling process. Corn Belt Energy pays for, owns and maintains the loops, and the couple reimburses it through a monthly fee of $7 per ton on their electric bill.

For the Matheny’s installation, the co-op paid $6,600 for six vertical loops; the couples $42 a month to participate in the program.

“The program is designed similar to other programs we have like security lights and meter-mounted surge protection,” said Stuva. “The monthly fee allows members to take advantage of the geothermal loops that are installed at their property.”

Interest in geothermal has heated up among members, local HVAC contractors and homebuilders because of the program. Since GeoCents began last September, 26 residential geothermal projects have come online. That translates into 102 vertical tons of loops under the co-op’s ownership—a goal Corn Belt Energy reached six months ahead of schedule.

“It’s such an incredibly good deal for Corn Belt Energy members,” said John Freitag, executive director of the Geothermal Alliance of Illinois in Springfield. Seminars on geothermal during the co-op’s annual meeting attracted standing-room only crowds.

“If you’re in the country and using propane or building a new home, or ready to pull the trigger on replacing your current heating and cooling system, you’d be crazy not to install geothermal,” Freitag added.

HVAC contractors and homebuilders like GeoCents because “it’s another program in their back pockets to allow them to make geothermal a viable option and close the deal and make the sale,” said Stuva. He added that the co-op maintains strict criteria for its “short list” of contractors.

Uncertainty over federal tax credits for geothermal—set to expire at the end of this year—could have an impact “the federal tax credit helps with the initial investment in these super-efficient systems, aiding energy efficiency programs put in place by our members,” said Paul Gutierrez, NRECA senior principal, legislative affairs

Geothermal was not included in the extension and phase-out of renewable technologies approved by Congress last year. In May, a bipartisan group of four House members introduced a measure to extend the geothermal tax credit this year.

In the meantime, the Mathenys are pleased with their investment and their decision to participate in the GeoCents program. “We firefighters like to try to do everything ourselves, but I thought it would be best to leave this to the professionals.”

Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.