Tom Huntington covering lots of ‘ground’ as new GEO chairman

WaterFurnace CEO Tom Huntington has been named chairman of the Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO). GEO is a nonprofit trade association that serves its members as “the voice of the geothermal heat pump industry.” The group works to promote favorable legislation on both Capitol Hill and at the local level. It organizes educational activities, outreach efforts, and awareness marketing. Association membership is made up of like-minded businesses that are dedicated to the success of the geothermal industry.

WASHINGTON — WaterFurnace CEO Tom Huntington has been named chairman of the Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO). GEO is a nonprofit trade association that serves its members as “the voice of the geothermal heat pump industry.” The group works to promote favorable legislation on both Capitol Hill and at the local level. It organizes educational activities, outreach efforts, and awareness marketing. Association membership is made up of like-minded businesses that are dedicated to the success of the geothermal industry.

Tom Huntington has been named chairman of the Geothermal Exchange Organization.

“I’m honored and excited to assume this new position at GEO,” Huntington said. “Clean energy legislation and financial incentives can play a positive role in the widespread adoption of geothermal heat pump technologies, and GEO is dedicated to helping create those opportunities. Anywhere power constraints are a problem, geothermal heat pumps are probably part of the solution.”

Geothermal as a comfort solution has seen great gains in popularity, helped to some degree by government tax incentives for homeowners and businesses. Future growth of the technology is expected to benefit from $70 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, allocated in June 2011. But technology needs end-users, so GEO is not relaxing its efforts, and has ramped up its legislative agenda, locally, and on the federal level.

“GEO believes that action at the state level will be the most effective avenue for assisting the geothermal heat pump industry across the country,” said Huntington. “We’re increasingly turning our attention to activities at the state level in support of geothermal heat pump market share and installations.”

Huntington noted that one recent example of GEO’s grassroots activity is its involvement in the recent successful passage, in the State of Maryland, of the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard/Renewable Energy Credits/Geothermal Heating and Cooling bill. The bill recognizes the renewable thermal energy contribution of geothermal heat pumps, and makes them available as a compliance option under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard for electric utility renewable energy purchases.

“We’re working on similar reform in Illinois and Ohio, and support of various legislative efforts in California, Colorado, and other states,” he added. 

At the federal level, GEO continues to work to ensure the current federal tax credit for geothermal heat pump installations is maintained through 2016, and hopefully beyond.

“We continue to work for recognition of the renewable thermal energy created by geothermal heat pumps in proposed Clean Energy Standard (CES) legislation in the U.S. Senate, and energy efficiency legislation in both houses of Congress,” he said.

In mid-May, GEO submitted detailed comments regarding thermal load avoided by geothermal heat pumps to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, as it considers the CES legislation. It’s also dedicated to the institution of U.S. Department of Energy research into cost-cutting, a program dedicated to geothermal heat pumps, and is working to expand a pilot program of On Bill Financing. Passed into law late last year, On Bill Financing will ease the first cost of installing geothermal heat pumps by small businesses, as it will allowing utilities to finance systems installations, then add that cost to monthly power bills.

But there remains much “ground” to cover, given the public’s still relative unfamiliarity with geothermal, when compared to traditional, forced-air comfort systems. To better tell its story, GEO is in the planning stages for industry sponsored, third party studies on commercial geothermal heat pump efficiencies, and a survey of nationwide employment and economic impacts of the industry.

“These will form the basis of educational and outreach activities directed at policy and decision makers at both the national and state levels,” explained Huntington. “Through our affiliations with our allied members and state geothermal associations, we’ll help coordinate and buttress geothermal heat pump awareness efforts at the local and regional levels. And, we continue to generate and expand GEO speaking opportunities at a number of venues, including American Ground Water Trust geothermal introduction workshops around the country.”

Additionally, GEO President Doug Dougherty will be a featured presenter at Mechanical Systems WEEK, Sept. 19-21, in Schaumburg, Ill.

Tom Huntington came to WaterFurnace as president and chief executive officer in 2009. Prior to joining WaterFurnace, he served in a variety of roles with Johnson Controls, York Intl., and Carrier Corp.

Huntington believes the largest single impact that will benefit the entire HVAC industry is a resurgence of the U.S. economy, and a rebirth of residential and commercial construction. When that happens, Huntington said GEO members believe they can grow the geothermal market share significantly. He added that consumer awareness, and expanding dealer network, utilities’ growing appreciation for geothermal, and favorable tax considerations are all helping to lay the foundation for a geothermal breakout once better times return.

“Geothermal heat pump technology continues to improve; new advances in variable speed technologies are coming to market; and improvements to grout, fluids, and drilling techniques are all advancing to improve efficiencies and lower operating costs,” said Huntington. “GEO anticipates that either utilities or energy conservation third-party financiers will see the value in owning the loop, and owners of geothermal heat pumps will have little or no cash outlay for its installation. As such, building owners will see immediate or very short paybacks for installing geothermal heat pumps. In five years, energy efficiency will be an accepted public policy at all levels of government and reducing the thermal loads of building through geothermal heat pump technology commonplace.”      

Huntington is well known in the heating and air-conditioning industry. He was past chairman of the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and was involved in the consolidation of the industry’s two governing bodies, the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute and the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association. He currently serves on the planning board of the resulting consolidated organization, the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI). He also served on the board of directors for North American Technician Excellence (NATE), the industry’s testing and certification organization for service technician training.

Terry McIver is executive editor of Contracting Business, contractingbusiness.com, a Penton Media publication.

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