Smithtown, N.Y. Adopts Model Geothermal Energy Code

The Suffolk County Planning Commission's model code for geothermal energy system use has found its first taker – and more Long Island towns will likely follow suit.

by / April 10, 2015
Smithtown, N.Y., is the first municipality in Long Island to adopt a model geothermal energy code. Shutterstock

Smithtown, N.Y., is the first town on Long Island to adopt a model code for the installation and use of geothermal energy systems.

Developed by the Suffolk County Planning Commission, the geothermal rules outline building standards and requirements for those wanting to adopt the underground-based green energy option. Smithtown Town board members adopted the policy 4-0 on March 19.

Geothermal energy siphons below ground temperatures of the Earth to heat and cool homes and other structures. Three types of geothermal systems are addressed in the code – closed loop, where plastic pipe exchanges heat with the ground with water or a water and chemical mixture; open loop, which uses water wells; and a direct exchange, which uses buried copper tubing to conduct energy with the ground using a refrigerant.

In an interview with Government Technology, David Calone, chairman of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, said the geothermal model code took about seven months to fully develop. The commission partnered with the Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization (LI-GEO) to draft the rules, which were published last November.

The commission used the template from other green energy codes as a template for geothermal, but environmental issues were a concern. Calone explained that the biggest issue in geothermal is the use of chemicals in the pipes. While the chemicals are self-contained, the commission restricted the use of several kinds of liquids that would be potentially harmful to groundwater.

Suffolk County's primary water supply is three aquifers on Long Island.

The geothermal code follows on the heels of the commission's model codes on solar and wind energy, which have either been adopted or are being considered across the New York state. Solar installations have exploded in recent years following the county's model code introduction and Calone hopes a similar trend will happen with geothermal.

Cost may be a problem, however. Residential geothermal systems are expensive, averaging about $30,000 depending on the size needed, according to a local utility. But rebates from the local power company and the government may help make geothermal more feasible for Long Islanders.

“Right now, our local utility, like many utilities, incentivizes solar and wind – not geothermal,” Calone said. “However, they've stated their intentions to do so, so this is a situation where we can get a little ahead of the curve.”

Looking ahead, Calone said he expects other towns in Suffolk County will follow in Smithtown’s footsteps and adopt the commission's geothermal planning code. He noted that the Town of Brookhaven is “there and ready to pass it,” while Riverhead, Islip and Huntington are all looking into the issue.

“They had some little things they are thinking about from an inspection perspective, but they're very interested in doing it,” he said.

Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.