Cutting-edge geothermal system keeps Local 455 training center cool

Tony Poole, St. Paul Steamfitters and Pipefitters Local 455’s business manager, explains how a geothermal system cools the union’s Apprenticeship Training Center in St. Paul.

At its Apprenticeship Training Center in St. Paul, Steamfitters and Pipefitters Local 455 prepares the next generation of union members to work in a changing energy landscape. But the union’s training center itself stands as a testament to the potential for emerging energy technologies to create jobs in the pipe trades for generations to come.

Last summer, Local 455 used a newly installed, cutting-edge geothermal system to cool the facility, located off L’Orient Street and Maryland Avenue. Despite running on a limited capacity while ironing out some mechanical issues, the new system cut the union’s cooling costs by 85%, according to an analysis facilitated by Xcel Energy.

“We think it’s probably going to be the future of cooling,” Local 455 Business Manager Tony Poole said. “It virtually provides our building with free air conditioning. The only costs that we pay are for the electricity to run the pumps that cycle water through the building.”

Poole projected the union will recover the costs of installing the geothermal system within seven years of bringing it online.

“We were looking to promote clean-energy projects that pipefitters and steamfitters work on, so we decided to put a geothermal energy system into our training center and showcase it,” Poole said. “It’s good for reducing greenhouse gases and emissions, but it’s also good to promote the work we do in the clean-energy field.”

Initially, Local 455 considered a traditional geothermal system that would have required digging some 70 wells on the property – at the temporary expense of parking space.

Instead, the union connected with a Minnesota-based company that has pioneered a new kind of geothermal technology, one that embeds a heat exchanger into the aquifer. The pump cycles 52-degree water into a hydraulic cooling system throughout building.

Water enters the training center’s cooling system at 52 degrees and typically exits a degree or two warmer.

Just four wells are enough to cool the 100,000-square-foot facility.

“We’re not taking any water out of the aquifer,” Poole explained. “We’re just using the temperature of the water in the aquifer to cool the water coming in the building.”

The technology is so new that Local 455 needed a variance from Minnesota’s Department of Health before installing it. The union hopes that data collected from the site will help determine whether the geothermal system becomes part of the state’s regular permitting process.

“This is the first building of its kind to use this technology in the world that we’re aware of,” Poole said. “We wanted to be on the forefront of this, and we are.”

The local union isn’t being shy about showing off its new system, either. Local 455 welcomes local and state officials and politicians to tour the facility and learn more about the hydraulic cooling system – in the hopes that the pipe-heavy geothermal approach gets more attention as lawmakers look to invest in and encourage green energy solutions.

“Everybody talks about wind, everybody talks about solar because those are things people can see and understand,” Poole said. “People need to be talking about geothermal, and things like carbon capture and clean hydrogen. Our members want to hear elected officials talking about those technologies.

“All the piping throughout this building is what we work with every day as pipefitters.”

The geothermal cooling system may be just the start of a clean-energy makeover at Local 455’s training hall. Poole said the union has already removed 26 natural-gas-powered rooftop cooling units, installed when the building opened in 2015. That frees up space for a new kind of heating system.

“We’re actually working on quotes with a contractor right now to get thermal solar panels for our roof,” Poole said. “The technology puts a coil inside the thermal panel, which heats the water, and it could supplement the heat from our boilers.”


  1. Way to go fitters. Now all you have to do is get the contractors on board to start installing them. Great job and keep up the wonderful work.

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