Idomo magnate on energy conservation crusade

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Gerrit de Boer is as famous for his Idomo furniture store as his ZZ Top beard.

Soon he might be well known for his energy conservation crusade, too.

The furniture magnate hopes to have his huge north Toronto store off the energy grids within the next decade by using two sources of unlimited energy – the earth and sun.

Drillers have been boring holes more than 165 metres deep to build a geothermal field of water-filled pipes outside the store to extract heat from the bedrock in winter and store heat there in the summer.

The system, which relies on electric-powered heat pumps to extract warmth in the winter and pump heat down in the summer, will be up and running by September. He plans to install a huge array of solar panels on the store roof to eventually supply power to the pumps.

Warmed or cooled air will be circulated through the store in its existing duct system.

De Boer is so confident about the $1 million-plus project that he's removing 26 huge rooftop gas and electric units that now supply energy to his store. He thinks the project will end up paying for itself within eight years.

"My goal is that 10 years from now I want to be totally off the grid," he said.

"We have to start thinking outside the box," said de Boer, who has a passive solar system in his own home. "We need to think creatively to find solutions."

It's something he says can be used by commercial buildings and ordinary homes alike to beat the rising cost of heating and cooling. He said some cities in Sweden already fuel 25 per cent of their homes with similar installations.

"We're simply recycling the earth," de Boer explained. "The heat that we take out in the winter, we put back in the summer. It's natural recycling."

He sent a letter inviting Premier Dalton McGuinty, who recently committed $26 billion to build two new nuclear reactors, up to his store yesterday to see another way to supply Ontario's energy needs.

Not only didn't the premier or any of his staff attend, they didn't even reply to de Boer's letter, he said.

But the director of the Ontario Power Authority's conservation development programs heard de Boer on a radio interview and swung by to check it out for himself.

Constantine Eliadis got an earful from de Boer and in return told the storeowner he could qualify for thousands of dollars in incentives to help fund the project he'd already begun.

Engineer Brian Beatty said he installed a larger version of the geothermal project at Oshawa's University of Ontario Institute of Technology, where they've already realized savings.

He said putting the piping into the deep bores "is like forcing limp spaghetti down a four-inch hole.

"We had to develop some of the technology ourselves," he said.

"We were spoiled by low energy costs in the past and it could have taken 20 years or more to get your money back. But with gas and electricity costs up so much now, it might only take five to seven years.

"It's all free energy under our feet."


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