CWU plans to invest in geothermal heating and cooling


A rendered image of what the Geo Eco Plant might look like. Courtesy of Scott Carlson

Morgana Carroll, News Editor

A geothermal heating and cooling plant is a part of the governor’s proposed package to fund the construction of a new North Academic Complex.

The Geo Eco Plant is a proposed building that will utilize renewable geothermal energy to heat the new North Academic Complex (NAC) that will be located in the plaza with the nations’ flags. 

The Geo Eco Plant is a part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposal, which also included funding for the NAC. The proposal will not be decided until April. If the proposal does pass, Capital Planning Project Manager Scott Carlson said construction of the Geo Eco Plant will start in fall 2023 and is projected to be finished by fall 2025.

The proposed plant would go in the southwestern corner of the Dean Nicholson Pavilion lot, where there is currently a grassy patch. 

According to Carlson, the plant is going to be designed as somewhere people can visit, and not just another utility building. Carlson said the plant will have an interactive panel or tablet where people can learn about geothermal power and what it can be used for. 

Carlson said they are designing the Geo Eco Plant to be able to connect to and support other buildings in the future, such as the proposed Art Complex and new Psychology Building. 

How geothermal heating plants work

According to Carlson, the plant will use an open loops system. This means, the water that gets taken out of the wells will never touch anything other than the pipes it interacts with. 

The water comes up from an aquifer(an underground water and mineral deposit), which Carlson said will be around 900 feet below ground, running through a pipe and then returning back into the ground. 

“You’re either taking the heat that is in the water to heat a building, or you’re taking heat and putting it into what would be cooler water, and sending it back down,” Carlson said. 

There will be two well locations; one will be under the Geo Eco Plant, and the other location has not been finalized yet. The current location they are considering is around the Wahle Apartments. 

The environmental impact

According to Carlson, one benefit of the new Geo Eco Plant is that it uses renewable energy.

“That means we won’t be burning natural gas to heat or cool [the NAC],” Carlson said. “There will be some electricity that runs the pumps, pulls the water up and pumps it back down, but there will be no natural gas burned.”

To ensure the NAC doesn’t go without heat, Carlson said the system will be connected to the Central Steam Plant, which is currently used to heat the campus, in case something goes wrong at the Geo Eco Plant. The Central Steam Plant burns natural gas to heat buildings. 

According to Carlson, the current hope of the university is that as new buildings get built and old buildings get renovated, they will be utilizing geothermal heating instead of using fossil fuels. 

“If there’s anything we can do to reduce our carbon emissions, then that’s a step in the right direction,” Carlson said. “It is about the health of the community we live in.” 

Carlson said that using geothermal instead of natural gas for most of the campus would be years, if not decades away. 

To see prior reporting on the NAC go to: