Facility Makes Zero Energy History

Pueblo Community Health Center in Colorado is the first zero energy outpatient healthcare facility in North America.

By Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor

The Pueblo Community Health Center in Colorado has achieved what no other facility of its type has: In 2023, it became the first zero energy outpatient healthcare facility in North America. Its total site energy use is offset by total site energy production, according to the New Buildings Institute. 

The center’s East Side Clinic in Pueblo, Colorado — a three-story, 64,000-square-foot facility — provides family practice and primary care services to those in need. When conversations about a new clinic began, health center officials soon turned to a larger goal than just a one-for-one replacement. The city of Pueblo established a goal to be zero energy by 2035, and the clinic’s board members wanted to reflect that community mission. 

The clinic achieved its zero-energy goal through a range of systems and equipment, including an enhanced building envelope with insulation values in excess of code requirements and fiberglass framed windows. The clinic also features ground source heat pumps, energy recovery ventilation, desuperheaters for domestic hot water, and LED lighting. Photovoltaic arrays with a 280-kW array on top of the clinic’s parking canopy and roof produce energy on site. Ground-source heat pumps with four miles of piping provide heating and cooling for the building. 

“Even though I saw all the numbers and projections, I thought there is no way this is going to cool our building,” says Donald E. Moore, the center’s chief executive officer. “In Pueblo, there's no humidity, and it's regularly 95 to 100 degrees from July 1 to August 31. I thought there's no way this is going to cool a 64,000-square-foot building just with geothermal.” 

Moore was mistaken. 

Related: Microgrids Help Build Energy-Resilient Healthcare Facilities

“This building cools fabulously, and it's not just the cooling,” he says. “It evenly cools the building, whereas our other buildings where we have the mechanical units on the roof, it's a constant war between this side of the building and that side of the building over who needs more and less cold or more and less heat. It's amazing how smooth and even the temperature is maintained across such a large building with those systems.” 

Barry Masimer, the clinic’s facility supervisor, says that organizations hoping to meet occupants’ performance goals, as well as achieve net zero goals, must include input from their facilities operations and maintenance department. 

"I would suggest that as much as possible, if somebody is planning on doing this, they really spend more time on individual training and understanding the things that need to be maintained, specifically by the facilities department,” Masimer says. 

Another critical and complementary element in achieving net zero status is partnering with outside organizations and service providers that share and buy into the same goals as the organization. 

“If I was somebody that wanted to understand what I was going to build a building or renovate a building this way, I would get with an HVAC company that is on board with net zero to begin with, somebody that already has the mentality that they want to buy into this because they see it as beneficial,” he says. "Without that company doing the preventive maintenance and them buying into it, we would be in a lot more trouble. We would probably be losing some of the efficiency that it was designed to have if there wasn't for people that were bought into it already and who are willing to carry it through and who understand what it requires.” 

Dan Hounsell is senior editor for the facilities market. He has more than 30 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management.

June 26, 2024

Topic Area: Energy and Power , Energy Efficiency

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