State and Utility Partnership Gets Geothermal Off the Ground at Offutt Air Force Base

July 28, 2004

Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, NE, like many Department of Defense installations, is in the process of substantially upgrading facilities. When faced with the need to upgrade heating and cooling systems in dormitories, it formed a partnership with its electric utility, Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), and the Nebraska State Energy Office for assistance in making the best system choices.

Photo of trenches of the ground source loop
Project Partners inspect one of the trenches of the ground source loop.

After extensive testing and analysis, ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) were found to be the most cost effective alternative for three buildings providing 440,000 square feet of living space for service personnel. GSHPs are expected to reduce energy use by 36 percent from the original boiler and chiller fan coil systems, and use 21 percent less energy than a new boiler and chiller package alternative.

The partnership was launched through a FEMP grant, competitively selected as a special project through the DOE State Energy Program and awarded to the Nebraska Energy Office. Through this grant OPPD and Offutt staff worked with the design team to perform thermal conductivity tests needed to assess GSHP viability, conduct full building computer energy simulations to determine the most life cycle cost effective energy efficiency and renewable energy recommendations, and produce 35 percent—complete construction documents, based on the recommendations.

The geothermal systems move heat to and from the earth, dramatically reducing fossil fuel consumption for heating or cooling. Geothermal systems are not only cost-effective, but also good for the environment. In addition, these systems are expected to have lower maintenance costs.

At the time of publication the dormitory project had proceeded to the construction bid phase. Additional GSHP systems have been installed at the Offutt Chapel and the Bellevue Public Schools/Offutt AFB Welcome Center and Lied Activity Center.

The U.S. Air Force took full advantage of the effort by sharing the GSHP knowledge gained with government and military officials from all 18 other Air Force bases that make up the Air Combat Command. Offutt, OPPD, and their partners hosted a special field day which included dissemination of technical information, construction documents, and installation training. Results have been very valuable and saved the Air Force actual design dollars on multiple projects.

For more information, contact Peter Rubin, Offutt AFB, 402-294-7614,; or Randy Jones, 303- 275-4814,