These families feel like they 'won the lottery' after their neighborhood was picked for first-ever geothermal heating & cooling network

Three pictures, from left to right: a drawing of geothermal pipes beneath two houses, a suburban street, a green banner that reads "first-in-the-nation."

An entire neighborhood in Framingham, Massachusetts is being retrofitted for a first-of-its-kind geothermal heating and cooling network. 

Geothermal energy uses water, gravity, and pressure to harness heat below the Earth's surface and warm and cool buildings. 

The process itself is nothing new — civilizations have used hot springs and water reservoirs to bathe, cook, and heat for centuries

But this mile-long project, led by the energy provider Eversource, marks the first time that geothermal energy has been used to heat and cool a shared network of buildings on this scale. 

Eric and Jennifer Mauchan told Canary Media that they felt like they “won the house lottery” when their community was handpicked for the project. 

“Everyone knows that our neighborhood has been chosen,” Jennifer Mauchan said, expressing gratitude for their situation. 

Previously, the Mauchans used gas and oil to heat their home, and electricity to cool it. 

Eversource expects the new geothermal network will reduce the residents’ greenhouse gas emissions by 60% — and cut their average utility costs by 20%. 

Ania Camargo Cortés is the senior manager of thermal networks at the Building Decarbonization Coalition, a nonprofit that aims to replace fossil fuels with clean energy by supporting Eversource and other companies invested in renewable resources. 

In regards to how the families and business owners were selected for this particular project, Camargo Cortés noted that green energy upgrades are typically only affordable to wealthier residents. 

So when it came to considering candidates in Framingham, the Building Decarbonization Coalition wanted to center low-income residents. The neighborhood they chose is classified by the state of Massachusetts as an “environmental justice” population. 

To meet this qualification, a community must meet one or both of the following criteria: minorities make up 40 percent or more of the population, and the annual median household income is 65 percent or less of the statewide annual median household income. 

A golden shovel breaks ground.
Photo courtesy of Eversource/YouTube

Camargo Cortés went on to explain the unique dynamics behind geothermal networks. 

In this mixed-use community filled with both small businesses and residences, for example, the network can pump cold air into the town’s grocery store while redirecting heat to neighboring houses. 

“The reason why it's so efficient is because we’re transferring energy,” Camargo Cortés told Canary Media. “We are not creating new energy. We’re just literally transferring it.”

As of early June, the new geothermal system is officially up and running, while Eversource continues working to install and extend ground source heat pumps to over a dozen residential buildings and an apartment complex. 

According to Nikki Bruno, Eversource’s vice president of clean technologies, there are plans to expand the network even further in the coming years. 

Camargo Cortés and her colleagues believe that geothermal energy has a bright future in the U.S., but only if everyone has a seat at the table. 

“I think the biggest thing is how do we create the possibility for whole-system scale transition, where we can really map out transitioning entire communities off gas and into comfortable, affordable, equitable heating for everybody,” Camargo Cortés said. ​

“As long as this is done equitably and everyone is allowed to participate, it can be done fairly,” she continued. “Where it becomes a problem is when some people are excluded.”

And that’s exactly why they chose to bring the benefits of geothermal energy to those often overlooked for these kinds of projects.

Header photo courtesy of Eversource/YouTube

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June 5, 2024 12:19 PM
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