Faced with replacing a 35-year old oil furnace in their
Ellicott City home, Baltimore
Symphony musicians Robert Barney and his wife, Julie
Parcells, decided on a geothermal
heating and cooling system with a hefty price tag of
But between tax credits from Howard County,
the state and federal governments and
hoped-for energy savings, they expect to recoup their
cost in five years.
"I'm just really happy" with the system, Barney said.
"I don't have anything burning in the
basement. It's quiet, and I think oil is going to go way
Homeowners like Barney and Parcells are fueling a
local and national surge in the purchase of
both solar and geothermal home energy units, according
to government and industry officials.
Howard's energy incentive credit program will, for
the first time, hit its $250,000 annual
spending ceiling, up from $160,000 in credits in fiscal
2009, said Linda Watts, chief of the
county Bureau of Revenue. The county allows $5,000 tax
credits for geothermal or whole-house solar, and $1,500
for solar hot water. Howard already has 23 applicants
waiting for fiscal 2011, Watts said, though that period
doesn't start until next July.
The trend is being repeated across the Baltimore area
and nationally, officials said.
Maryland granted $3.25
million worth of credits for 530 solar installations and
202 geothermal systems in the fiscal year just ended,
said. Department of Energy spokeswoman Christina
Twomey. Funding this fiscal year will depend on federal
stimulus money and Maryland's Strategic Energy
Investment Funds, Twomey said. Maryland is one of 10
states participating in a Regional Greenhouse Gas
Initiative in which they sell CO2 emission allowances to
utility companies and use the proceeds to lower carbon
Harford County officials said the number of
tax credit recipients climbed from 25 to 60 since last
year. Anne Arundel has 33 applicants for fiscal 2010,
which began July 1, up from 10 last year, said Walter
Tolliver, the county's tax billing manager. Prince
George's County just started a credit
program, but in Montgomery County, which began its
program one year ago, 55 people have qualified for
$250,000 in credits, said Eric Coffman, the program
administrator. Montgomery just approved a loan program
to help people buy renewable energy systems. The loan
stays with the
property as a lien until it is paid off, Coffman said.
Baltimore City and Carroll County offer no tax credits,
and Baltimore County offers them only for new homes,
said Don Mohler, a county spokesman.
president of the nation's largest manufacturer of
geothermal equipment, said he believes that recent huge
and sudden energy market fluctuations have convinced
more people they'd be more secure with an independent
heating and cooling system.
"People believe that
anything that can go up that easily and go down that
easily can go up again," he said, referring to last
summer's spike in oil prices.
"All it takes is one
storm in the Gulf" of Mexico to disrupt the oil market,
said Ellis, president of Climate Master Inc., of
Ellis said his business doubled from 2005 to
last year, even before federal tax credits became
available. Now, with no ceiling on federal credits,
which cover up to 30 percent of the cost of whole-house
geothermal or solar systems, the industry was up 40
percent in the first four months of this year, he said.
Solar systems are prospering too, according to Monique
Hanis, spokeswoman for the Solar Energy Industry
Association in Washington. Whole-house solar
electric systems increased 81 percent in 2008, and
smaller solar hot-water system installations went up 50
percent, she said. The federal credit program has given
the industry a higher profile, she said. "More people
are aware of it."
Maryland companies similarly report
increased business. John Love, whose Severn company
installed the Barney-Parcells' system last winter, said
that despite the recession, he bought a new truck for
his business and hired two more workers to keep up.
"In two years we've increased our residential business
50 percent. It's pretty dramatic," he said.
said Love's firm hired a drilling firm to install a
450-foot-deep well for the geothermal pipes filled with
an alcohol-based solution near their 2,300-square-foot
home, built in 1972.
The major part of the system is
invisible under the grass of the couple's verdant
quarter-acre front lawn. In the basement, two water
tanks sit side by side, attached by pipes and metal
ducts to the fan and heat pump portion of the system.
Love said the unit produces hot water in the first tank
a byproduct, and that is used to cut the cost of the
household hot water tank by up to 75 percent. Since the
rancher had baseboard heat, Love installed metal air
ducts in the basement ceiling, joining them with ducts
installed for central air conditioning.
"This area is
perfect for geothermal," Barney said. Geothermal uses
the year-round underground temperature of about 50
degrees to provide heat in winter and cooling in summer.
The heat also helps warm hot water in two tanks in the
Instead of paying $4,000 a year for oil,
plus $6,000 for a new furnace, Barney and Parcells now
pay only for electricity to run the system and the
house's lights and appliances, but the monthly bills are
significantly lower, Barney said.
couple haven't had a trouble-free ride, however.
and Lisa DeLong, who have lived in their West Friendship
home for 22 years, paid $48,000 for a geothermal system
in their 2,700-square-foot home on one and a quarter
But the system's computer malfunctioned over
the first several months, resulting in duplicate energy
costs for a while. Those issues were solved, and the
system is now running smoothly, he said.
three months of trouble-free operation, he now thinks
the system could take more than two decades to pay for
itself, unless energy costs rise significantly. Still,
he expects to recoup much of the purchase price whenever
he and his wife sell their home.
"It is an amazing
system. It's incredibly quiet," he said.
2009, The Baltimore Sun