Edgerton Hospital and Health Services still focused on clean energy

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Jim Dayton
Sunday, November 12, 2017

EDGERTON—The portrait of clean energy in Edgerton ironically once looked like the bastion of an outdated fuel source.

As Edgerton Hospital and Health Services underwent construction several years ago, crews drilled nearly 300, 300-feet deep wells on a lawn adjacent to Highway 59. The pockmarked earth looked like a Texas oil field, hospital CEO Jim Schultz said.

But crews weren’t searching for black gold or Texas tea. They were installing a geothermal heating system that remains the center of the hospital’s sustainability efforts.

Five years after the hospital opened, the geothermal system has already paid for itself through energy savings. And it’s only the beginning as the hospital strives to become more energy efficient.

Geothermal heating was an uncommon system during the hospital’s construction. Administrators toured a similar facility in Iowa and pitched the idea to board members, many of whom did not understand how it worked.

Crews placed fluid-filled pipes in the hundreds of underground wells. Using the earth as a heat source, the fluid was kept at a constant temperature that circulated in and out of the facility.

Gas bills used to cost about $14,000 per month. Now the monthly total hovers around $450, Schultz said.

The geothermal system cost about $800,000 to install. Engineers predicted it would pay for itself in 11 years, but it did so in less than half that time.

The hospital also uses plenty of hypoallergenic materials and products. Patients can open windows inside their rooms, which is fairly uncommon in medical facilities, Schultz said.

The building also incorporated plenty of natural light into its design.

“When you walk down the hallway where the waiting areas are, I’m sure you could feel the heat coming in but also all the light,” Schultz said. “Light has a lot of impact in terms of health and healing and your general welfare of your employees."

Now the hospital is turning its attention toward electricity efficiency. Electric bills still cost about the same as the old hospital, he said.

Officials will consider another large-scale system, such as solar panels, for the hospital’s electric grid. For now, they plan on switching all the interior fluorescent bulbs to LED lights.

“Fluorescent is going by the wayside,” Schultz said. “When we put these in, these were the most efficient. That was just a little more than five years ago. But the technology changes much faster than you can keep pace.”

While technology can “push you against the wall,” Schultz does not believe the geothermal system will ever be outdated because it relies on the earth’s internal temperature.

Even more fleeting technological upgrades are worth the investment because new systems are often retrofitted to old standards. The future replacement for LED bulbs likely would fit the LED system, just as LED lights fit fluorescent sockets.

Because health care facilities are constantly operating, they are a massive polluter. That’s why the hospital places such high emphasis on sustainability, Schultz said.

“My feeling is if we really are serious about health care, when that patient comes they should have clean environment, an aesthetic environment,” he said. “When you can say we’re not burning any fossil fuels, generating our own clean electricity, we won’t have any carbon footprint. Plus we save money, and we provide a truly environmentally safe environment for our patients.”

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