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General Seminary begins major environmental initiative, converts to energy-efficient geothermal system


The General Theological Seminary (GTS) in the Chelsea area of Manhattan, New York, began construction on what is perhaps the largest geothermal project in the Northeast -- converting the school’s heating-cooling system, now powered by fossil fuel, to a new energy-efficient geothermal system.

Seminary staff members and executives from engineering and architectural firms were on hand August 8 beneath a two-story-high drilling rig to exchange congratulations and share the story with the media.

Workmen started up the rig, raising its massive drilling assembly to the full height. Beginning with 10th Avenue on the seminary’s west side, a series of about 20 wells will be drilled beneath the sidewalks surrounding the campus, tapping the ground water that flows through the island’s bedrock. The ground water, which maintains a temperature of about 55 degrees year-round, feeds a heat-pump system which either transfers heat to it during the warm months or pulls heat from it in cold weather. The need for rooftop cooling towers and window air conditioners will be permanently eliminated.

In her remarks to the media, GTS executive vice president Maureen Burnley quoted Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on climate change: “The answer is known and clear: We must reduce carbon dioxide emissions.” Besides realizing significant financial benefits to GTS, in the first 10 years of the system’s operation, the Seminary will reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by more than 14,000 tons, becoming a model project for the entire Church.

“As stewards of both our Chelsea Square campus and of the glorious but fragile earth we all share, we are investing in this geothermal system to benefit the Seminary, our neighbors, and our world for generations to come,” Ward B. Ewing, General’s dean and president, said following the Community Board approval. “This project ensures that a campus built for the ages will continue to serve through the ages. And it reminds us that we must work as hard to preserve the environment as we do to save our Seminary’s historic buildings.”

The Episcopal Church has a long-standing concern for environmental stewardship. “It is especially appropriate for General Seminary to undertake a project that so clearly responds to the Episcopal Church’s concern about energy conservation and global warming,” a GTS news release said. “By eliminating tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, the initiative makes an exemplary contribution to the effort to stem the tide of global warming,” a problem cited by the church’s General Convention in 2003 as a threat “to God’s good creation,” one that has a disproportionate impact on “the poorest and most vulnerable in the United States and around the world.”

By eliminating dependence on fossil fuel to heat and cool 260,000 square feet of buildings, the project is a powerful endorsement of Convention legislation aimed at reducing dependence on fossil fuel, which, the Convention said, “harms air quality and public health and is contributing to changes in the global climate that threaten the lives and livelihoods of our neighbors around the world.”


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