A small-town solution; District energy system provides the key to future growth


The geothermal retrofit at the TransCanada Arena in Ritchot, Man. saves 60 percent on energy, reduces maintenance and increases comfort for spectators.

By Bruce Nagy

Roger Perron had a dream for his hometown of Ritchot, a bedroom community 15 kilometers southeast of Winnipeg. The population was growing and, as economic development officer, he wanted to keep it that way. Development outside of large cities is uneven in Manitoba. Small towns are disappearing. He wanted to add an event centre, a daycare and an ambulance garage. Six old gas furnaces in the fire hall and arena were on their last legs. In his mind Perron created the Île-des-Chênes District Geothermal Energy Project. That was the easy part. Now all he had to do was make it real.

Disney founder Walt Disney once said: “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” Perron had to make like Walt Disney to make the district energy project happen.

He knew how to corral governments, write grants, persuade corporations and identify talent. He organized funding and brought in the ‘king of geothermal projects,’ Brent Laufer of Hydron-Aire Ltd, Winnipeg. “He’s our tech guru,” says Perron. “He designed all the systems, taught everyone how to use them and how to service the equipment. It went smoothly.”

Laying the district energy piping under a gas main was just one of the challenges.


Overcoming obstacles

Well, not that smoothly. There were some hiccups, Laufer reported. The drill team hit something hard 60 feet deep and the plan for 400-foot geothermal wells became 60-foot wells, 504 of them. That was only one of the obstacles. A more formidable and literal obstacle was about 20 feet below the surface on the way to the fire hall: three 36-inch high-pressure TransCanada gas mains.

“There are rules about crossing a pipeline,” said Laufer. “We had to go under it, not over it. We had to be supervised and open everything up so that the work could be monitored as we went along. If you nick one of those mains it could take out three city blocks.”

In the end the pipeline

The under-rink tubing is tied in to the geothermal system.

was untouched and there were no explosions. They built a community centre containing a 500-seat banquet hall, a daycare with radiant heated floor, offices for medical and government services, a new ambulance garage, and upgraded the HVAC systems in the fire hall and arena. The arena now has heated viewing areas, bleachers, referee benches, and penalty box.

One big loop

The system is designed as one big loop, with WaterFurnace ground source heat pumps used throughout. They make ice for the arena, with the rejected heat going into the loop. The arena also uses a rechargeable electric Zamboni and an indoor pit to melt the rink surface shavings. This eliminates opening and closing of large doors and messy floors. It saves energy and water, and it supports humidity control. “The ice-making heat rejection moves your COP from about 3.0 up to 4.5,” said Laufer.

The project achieved Leadership in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) Silver status, saved 60 percent on energy, reduced emissions and also HVAC maintenance costs.

“We wanted Ritchot to stand out a bit as a community. It worked,” says Perron. “It has generated more development, condos, new businesses and has helped spread out our tax base…You’ve gotta have a dream.”


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