Costly ice rink upgrades coming as R-22 coolant retired

Costly ice rink upgrades coming as R-22 coolant retired

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The state of hockey will soon see some big changes when it comes to how the rinks are run because new international regulations mean more than 100 indoor rinks will need to be refitted with expensive upgrades.

Although Minnesota sets records for days below zero, when the ice rink is indoors, a refrigerant must be used to get the water ready to host players with skates, sticks and pucks. The Plymouth Ice Center is the second largest indoor facility in the state, and two of the three sheets of ice there are kept frozen with R-22, a coolant that won't be produced after the year 2020.

"Just putting it in those tubes down there doesn't create a danger, but producing it is what helps deplete the ozone layer," Sen. Amy Klobuchar explained.

The Plymouth Ice Center isn't the only facility that is using R-22 to keep the rinks cool. In fact, 120 of the more than 200 rinks in the state do -- including the home of the Minnesota Wild.

The cost to upgrade a rink can range from $100,000 to more than $1 million.

"Everything at that compressor room has to be replaced," Greg Flor, of Mariucci Arena, told Fox 9 News.

There is no rule saying rinks must stop using R-22. In fact, there could be plenty of supply for years to come as it is reclaimed from rinks switching over to new systems that use ammonia-based refrigeration.

"We can operate with this product for many, many years if you have a nice, tight system and don't have any leaks," Flor estimated.

Meanwhile, Klobuchar is asking the EPA to work with rink owners to stabilize the supply.

"Nothing stops rinks from using reclaimed Freon -- sort of recycled Freon," she said. "That doesn't mean you produce more. It simply means that you're using the Freon that's already out there."

About 90 percent of the rinks affected are owned by cities, and the rural rinks may struggle to come up with the costs of an upgrade -- and that's something Klobuchar said she is mindful of.

"The question is how we get there -- and how we get there in the most cost-effective way for these rinks because it can be very, very expensive to convert," she said.

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