Ageothermal energy project under development in Framingham will be the first of its kind in the nation.
The gas utility-operated pilot program will create a geothermal energy network to service around 40 buildings, including low-income and elderly housing, as well as a school building and some commercial properties. The plan will use a system of underground pipes and heat pumps to transfer the relatively constant temperature underneath our feet into buildings, providing cost-effective heating during winters and cooling during summers.
“You go down a few feet, 5 or 6 in Massachusetts, and you have a constant temperature of around 55 [degrees]. And that constant temperature is really a source of thermal energy that's really efficient and reliable,” Zeyneb Magavi, co-executive director of the Home Energy Efficiency Team, said on Boston Public Radio.
The nonprofit HEET is collaborating on the pilot program with the city of Framingham and Eversource. Magavi said in addition to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, this technology also costs less to operate than other heating and cooling systems.
"It's constant, so you cost a lot less electricity and it never peaks. Like you just kind of have a steady electric demand that's much lower," she said.
Magavi believes Eversource made the decision to participate and join this project because it's a way for the utility to modernize, meeting customers' future needs and climate goals.
"Eversource is really footing the bill," Shawn Luz, sustainability manager of Framingham, said on Boston Public Radio. "They're covering the costs both on the city side for the residents, and businesses that are participating."
Massachusetts' Clean Energy and Climate Plan set a goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and outlined strategies to reach that aim, including the use of heat pumps and geothermal technology. Luz said the city is working on a climate solutions plan that aligns with the state's, and that there was a lot of community support for the pilot program.
"In fact, I even heard that there were a couple of residents who had asked for signs, yard signs, to put on their lawns to make sure that all their neighbors signed up so that they could be along the route," he said.
Eversource is planning for the geothermal energy network to be operational in early spring, according to Luz.
"But a lot of that is going to be contingent on, you know, getting the bore field work done," Luz said, explaining that those are the sites where geothermal wells and pumps are located to feed into the network of pipes. "And then there's a lot of customer conversions. On the residential side, each of those homes has to be tied in, along with apartment buildings."
Magavi said that the scarcity of drills and skilled drillers has been one major hurdle with this pilot project.
"We don't have any driller training school, and the drills take a year and a half to back order. So we've got a kind of supply chain issue,” Magavi said.
Magavi said this technology could be built by local governments, utilities or other groups, and who should be responsible for these projects has been a topic of debate in other communities. She said HEET is strongly in support of a regulated utility being the provider, because they already have workers, rights of way and financing to support the up-front costs of transitioning from fossil fuels to geothermal systems.
"We want the health benefits and the comfort and the lower bills to be part of everybody's future, and particularly those who need it the most," said Magavi.