Talking Zero Net Energy

Bill Lovallo led the discussion on Thursday night at Chenery Auditorium with a group of 10 panelists on the topic of the path to achieve Zero Net Energy for the proposed Belmont 7-12 School. After over a year of work, the most notable voice on the panel was Steve Dorrance, Belmont’s Facility Director, who said plainly that he had been a naysayer, but is now fully supportive of the plan – it’s the right way to go. Dorrance recently toured the newly constructed IRS building, one that is of comparable size and design to Belmont’s proposed building. This visit and conversations with directors and operators provided him with the confidence that “ZNE” is the best path for the 7-12 buiding. He notes that the buidling is operated and maintained by one skilled technical employee with some limited part-time support.

Several panelists talked about the importance of maintenance and operations, likening it to handing over the keys to a car – a complex car. Diemer described the ZNE process, as a kind of budget process. Simply the aim and subsequent monitoring is as tangible as a monetary budgeting process. In the monitoring, it becomes easy to identify gaps and opportunities.

Knowing that the “keys” go to a complex system, there was discussion of the length of commissioning. Lovallo stated that the commitment to commissioning is 2 years, already included in the plans. That commitment was well-received by Dorrance, and supported by the other panelists unanimously.

Mark Haley gave an overview of geothermal systems – noting that Belmont has them in both the Beech Street Center and the Wellington Elementary School.

Ground source heat pump diagram in heating mode.
Ground source heat pump diagram in heating mode.

The technology proposed is closed loop system, that uses the constant temperature in the ground to exchange heat in the winter and cooling in the summer. The pipes below the ground never move. Knowles underscored the simplicity of geothermal compared with other systems that utilize a much greater number of moving parts, all with limited life spans and needing routine maintenance.

Jacob Knowles and Bill Lovallo summed up the financial picture for the benefits of ZNE. Through the combination of: 1) savings in operating costs, 2) Renewable Energy Credits, and 3) Alternative Energy Credits, the building will being paying back on day one – and every day thereafter not only through the life of the bond, but well beyond.

Several attendees asked questions and provided support for achieving class D ZEN for the project, including Terese Hammerle, Chair of Sustainable Belmont, who’s final note was “I think what you’re doing is fantastic.”

The ten professionals at the Energy Summit focused on the Belmont High School project, included Rob Diemer (In Posse), Patrick Cunningham (Perkins + Will), Steve Dorrance (Dir. Facilities Dept.), Chris Roy (General Manager, Belmont Light), Roger Colton (Belmont Energy Committee), Jacob Knowles (Energy Consultant, BR+A), Johnathan Abe (Energy Consultant, Sunwealth), Mark Haley (Geotechnical Engineer, Haley & Aldrich), Beth Heider (Chief Sustainability Officer, Skanska).