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Geothermal regulations could get final read Oct. 1

Hubbard County inched closer to enacting an ordinance to regulate geothermal heating systems, but is still taking a cautious approach.

There are fears that “open loop” systems that drain into county lakes could contaminate the waters, but no empirical proof.

And the county board is divided over whether it should even regulate the heating and cooling technology no one seems to understand.

Two camps appear to be forming, one recommending approval of the regulations and one not so sure.

The thorniest issue is the open loop systems that discharge water into the lake.

Water is pulled from a well, runs through a heat exchanger and dumped back onto the ground, where it can seep underground or into a lake.

It is that water (energy) exchange that is most problematic to county and state officials.

Even supporters don’t believe the discharge should be over land.

“That’s the absolute worst thing you can do,” said Bryan Kerby of Northwoods Log Homes, who drafted a model ordinance regulating the eco-friendly systems that don’t burn fossil fuels.

The state allows such systems, permitted up to 5 million gallons. And although the state hasn’t taken a position on the open loop systems, it doesn’t expressly forbid them.

“If the state doesn’t care if we dump water into the lake why does the county care?” asked Hubbard County Board chair Cal Johannsen.

Geothermal systems can be closed or open, called a pump and dump.

The Department of Health discourages direct discharge of circulated water back into the aquifer.

“We haven’t heard one issue,” said Justin Isaacson, owner of Ike’s Heating and Cooling. He said around half of the new heating systems he installs are geothermal. He brought donuts to tide everyone over during the lengthy discussion that has occupied hours since it came up at a Board of Adjustment meeting last spring.

Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf will polish the language and bring the ordinance back to the Oct. 1 meeting.

In other business, the board:

n Learned the County 18 bridge deck will be paved likely Monday. It was to have been done Friday, but rainy conditions hampered work. The bridge should be finished soon, Assistant County Engineer Jed Nordin told the board.

n Discussed the new combined Board of Adjustment/Hubbard County Planning Commission, which will be in effect in 2014. Members hashed out intricate details such as meeting times, number of board members, whether the board must approve a fellow board member’s appointment and other items. To date the only thing that seems to be set is that the boards will meet in the evenings.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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