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City accepts grant for heat pump system

The city of Seward is one step closer to heating city buildings using seawater from Resurrection Bay.

With the approval of an ordinance at last night’s council meeting, the city can now accept a $725,000 grant from the Alaska Energy Authority to design and construct a ground source heat pump.

The city of Seward is looking to harness heat from Resurrection Bay, seen here from Mt. Marathon, to heat four city buildings. (Photo by Kat Sorensen)

The pump will draw heat from Resurrection Bay for the Seward Community Library, City Hall Annex, City Hall and Fire Hall for an estimated savings of $25,000 a year.

The ordinance also authorized a city match of $156,497, which interim City Manager Jeff Bridges said will come from in-kind contributions, for a total project cost of $882,497.

“This has been a topic of conversation for quite a while, from my understanding,” Bridges said during Monday’s council meeting. “That ($156,497) may not be what we fully spend. We will use in-kind contributions to offset some of those actual cash requirements but we’d like to get this project moving and the next step officially is to accept the grant.”

The first step was taken in 2015, when the city drilled a test well on the waterfront to see if using geothermal technology from the bay was even possible. The tests were favorable, spurring the grant award from the state.

The city hopes to implement this technology and continue exploration of renewable energy, potentially expanding past the four city buildings.

“This is going to be a project that will be a pilot type thing for the community,” said Mayor David Squires. “If this works out, we will have the ability to look at expanding it to different fields. We’ll get the bugs worked out and the city will be the guinea pig.”

The city’s heat pump won’t be the first in town, though. The Alaska SeaLife Center first installed a heat pump energy system in 2011 and has been operating with 98 percent renewable heat since about 2016, totaling savings of about $15,000 a month according to the SeaLife Center.

“The Alaska Sea-Life Center has experienced tremendous success with their heat loop system and the City wishes to utilize newer, advanced technologies that will significantly reduce the cost of heating our City facilities,” Bridges said in a memo to the council.

That success, according to Alaska SeaLife Center Operations Director Caryn Fosnaugh, stems from the SeaLife Center’s continued ability to reduce their energy usage. Inside the aquarium, electric pumps push seawater from Resurrection Bay through a heat exchanger.

“Heat pumps essentially convert wasted energy into useable hot water,” Fosnaugh said. “The energy being used is coming from the energy it takes to heat the water from Resurrection Bay. It comes into the system and then the heat pumps heat the water.”

The heat emanating from that water, which is mixed with glycol and heated to 194 degrees, is then blown throughout the Alaska SeaLife Center, heating the building, the pavement outside and the viewing decks on the habitats.

“It seems really exciting,” said Council member Kelly Lane,” and its been really great for the SeaLife Center, so let’s try it.”

See below for a video describing the Alaska SeaLife Center’s heat pump system.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Hi, just questioning whether the savings are expected to be $25,000 a year–sounds like a low figure, considering the Sea Life Center saves $15,000 a month? Thanks. Bob

    1. Hey Robert,
      I double checked the council packet because, yes, it does seem to be a low figure in comparison to ASLC. The heat loop system will supplement the existing boiler heating system in just four municipal buildings at up to 80% to start, representing an estimated annual fuel cost savings of $25,000. The difference in savings probably (this is just my guess) stems from type and amount of heat usage. ASLC heats in different ways than, say, the library or city hall.

      — Kat

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