Residential geothermal units on the rise

The Department of Natural Resources recently permitted a residential geothermal heating unit on state tideland on North Douglas Island. The Mining, Land and Water geothermal permit marks the third that has recently crossed the desk of Southeast region manager David Kelley.


“We’re expecting more and more applications for these,” Kelley said. “There is a growing demand.”

A demand helped along by state and federal energy efficiency assistance. As an example, homeowners associations can apply for loans from Alaska Housing Finance Corporation to install geothermal heat pumps.

Kelley said his division is working to limit the waiting time for these types of permits “to allow people to start saving money and conserving energy,” Kelley said.

Why put a private geothermal system on public land?

“The area is going to have to be routinely covered by salt water for these things to work,” Kelley said. So the homeowner must install the heat exchange part of the system on state-owned tidelands below mean high water, he said.

The heat exchanger is a buried mat of coiled pipes that exchange heat with the earth and ocean by way of circulating water or antifreeze.

Those interested in installing a heat pump should also check with the U.S. Corps of Engineers and the City and Borough of Juneau for any additional requirements, Kelley said. Also, if a system is to be installed near an anadromous fish stream, consult with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, he said.

The recent geothermal permit was awarded to Joseph Newman of North Douglas.

He said he decided to install a groundsource heat pump for two main reasons.

“The price of oil is high,” Newman said, and “it’s carbon-free.”

Newman said buying and installing a geothermal system is kind of expensive. However, he said he was able to take advantage of the incentives offered by the state and federal government.

“Mr. Kelley has been very helpful and the Corp of Engineers were very helpful,” Newman said. “There is always a little roadblock here and there, but … they were able to make it work.”

Newman did say that his progress was slowed by the lack of a state Coastal Management Zone.

Dealing with tides, installation of the geothermal unit should take a couple days, Newman said.

“It really doesn’t take long, when people do this in their back yards [it] may take a day,” Newman said. He said he plans to start laying the geothermal pad on a little less than an acre within the next month.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at


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