Geothermal Energy Comes to Woodstock

By Elle O’Casey

If you have spent time walking the winding carriage roads at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Park recently, you may have noticed some heavy machinery near the park’s entrance. This drilling equipment is part of a new geothermal heating and cooling system installation at the park.

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park was established to preserve sites important to the early history of the conservation movement in the United States, interpret the evolution of the conservation movement, and advance conservation thinking into the future. The geothermal system is the latest manifestation of the Park’s commitment to sustainability.

Since the park’s inception in 1998, Facility Manager John Gilbert and his team have worked to introduce green energy practices to the park. Through John’s leadership, the facility management team sees building challenges through the lens of sustainability. Cyclic and repair projects become opportunities to upgrade to more environmentally sustainable technologies.

The park’s facility management division has consistently invested in the design and implementation of renewable energy technology at the park, including the latest installation of the geothermal HVAC system. The geothermal HVAC system for the Carriage Barn Visitor Center will replace the outdated fossil fuel HVAC equipment by using geothermal heat pumps, eliminating reliance on fossil fuels in the Carriage Barn.

Switching to a new geothermal system was not cheap but John conducted a 20-year analysis of the new system and made the case for geothermal, citing an additional $6,500 in cost savings annually through the total elimination of fuel oil. This elimination will reduce the Carriage Barn’s carbon footprint by 65%, significantly reducing the park’s overall greenhouse emissions.

Geothermal System in Action

Geothermal System in Action

The geothermal system installed at the park uses a water-sourced heat pump. The installation process involves drilling twelve wells 500 feet deep and installing 6-inch pipes in each well. These pipes serve as as the closed-loop heat exchanger, circulating water from the wells into the building, warming or cooling the water depending on seasonal needs.

Many people don’t think of Vermont as a geothermal hotspot, yet when I sat down to speak with John about this new geothermal system, he emphasized that the technology is changing rapidly and geothermal energy production is now a viable option for the state. Local companies like Cushing & Sons are able to install geothermal systems that uniquely fit building location needs.

Cushing & Sons company drilling the geothermal wells.

Cushing & Sons company drilling the geothermal wells.

This new system compliments a lot of the other green energy work already in the park. A few years ago, John had the foresight to bring in a team of energy consultants to work with park staff to proactively identify opportunities to introduce renewable technologies to the park. The result was the development of a multi-year green energy strategy.

This green energy strategy has significantly lowered the park’s carbon footprint and reduced operating costs through a variety of projects, including:

  • The Forest Center: one of the greenest buildings in the National Park Service. It holds a Platinum LEED certification, the third of its kind in the NPS and second in the state of Vermont.
    Artist-In-Residence Studio: The Artist Studio is completely off-the-grid, powered by solar panels and heated with a wood stove.
  • Garn Boilers: Garn wood boilers assist in heating the buildings at the park. These systems burn firewood that is harvested from the park’s own forest.The Mansion Garn boiler has reduced the Mansion’s fuel oil consumption by about 50%.
  • Mansion Wood Pellet Boiler: The park added a Wood Pellet boiler to work in tandem with the existing Garn wood fired boiler for the Mansion heating. With this addition, the Mansion does not use any no fossil fuel.
  • Compost: The park produces about 15 cubic yards of compost annually.
  • Solar Water Heater in the Greenhouse: The park installed two solar arrays inside the building. These panels are not solar voltaic panels but are instead a simpler technology that act as an efficient boiler. Water in the solar panels is raised to 140 degrees and then is used for domestic hot water.

There are several additional green energy projects on the horizon at the park. Two notable projects coming soon include a solar PV System that will serve the Carriage Barn’s electricity needs. The Solar PV system will be a 78 kW array, producing on average 85,500 kWh per year. The second notable project is in partnership with the Woodstock Foundation. The park applied for a grant from the Vermont Clean Cities Coalition that would install two dual-port electric vehicle charging stations (one at the park and one in the shared visitor parking lot) and purchase two plug-in electric hybrid vehicles.

The Park has received funding to install another wood pellet boiler to replace an obsolete fuel oil system in the Belvedere in 2017 and the park will also install a geothermal heat pump in the Generator Garage connected to the Carriage Barn system.

A special thanks to John Gilbert for taking the time to share his story of renewable energy technologies at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.

Do Just One Thing: Stop by Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park to see the geothermal system for yourself and take a walk on the carriage roads while you’re there.

2 Responses to “Geothermal Energy Comes to Woodstock

  • Who did you use as the geothermal engineer?


  • Great question Matt. The engineer for the project was LN Consultants out of the Burlington area.

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