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Boston Housing Authority, National Grid Agree to Develop Networked Geothermal Heating at Franklin Field Apartments

New system will replace existing gas distribution service with an electric heat system, supporting the City’s goal to decarbonize public housing by 2030.


Mayor Michelle Wu joined the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) and National Grid to announce that Franklin Field Apartments has been selected for National Grid’s Networked Geothermal Demonstration Program. The project will be the first networked geothermal pilot project in the City of Boston and the second in National Grid’s Massachusetts program. Switching energy sources from gas to electric is an important step to create green, healthy communities for residents. This is important in accelerating the Mayor’s goal for BHA to be fossil fuel free by 2030. At the project’s conclusion, the seven buildings in the pilot will be fossil-free.

Networked geothermal is a highly efficient renewable heating technology and source of energy that uses the ground temperature to provide heating and cooling to buildings through an underground piping network. The underground temperature serves as a heat source during winter and transfers indoor heat to the ground for cooling during the summer. 

“Being the greenest city in America means that we will be best able to take care of not only the places we live, but the people we love,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “We want to be a city where the benefits we are bringing when it comes to energy efficiency and green energy are not just around being able to check off boxes and hit goals, but that we are able to empower and support the people in our community who make it possible for Boston to do everything that we do. Every Boston family deserves a home that is affordable, safe and healthy.”

“As Boston tackles the challenge of climate change, it is vital that our public housing communities come first,” said Kenzie Bok, Administrator of the Boston Housing Authority. “Our partnership with National Grid is an exciting opportunity to showcase geothermal technology as a fossil-fuel-free alternative for multifamily housing, while also improving resident quality of life by providing 129 BHA families with efficient, state-of-the-art heating and cooling.”

“We are excited to partner with the Boston Housing Authority and the City of Boston to meet our collective climate change, clean energy and equity goals by pursuing this networked geothermal project at Franklin Field, bringing efficient and clean heating and cooling to its residents” said Lisa Wieland, President of National Grid New England. “We are taking the initial learnings from our first project in Lowell and applying them here, which has been extremely valuable.  Key to transitioning away from fossil fuels is to develop and expand reliable alternatives.  Networked geothermal has significant potential to be a solution, especially for larger buildings and campuses, and this partnership will allow us to demonstrate that and bring the benefits of the clean energy future to the Franklin Field community, today.”

The geothermal pilot will replace an aging gas boiler loop currently serving 129 units at seven federal public housing buildings at the BHA’s Franklin Field community in Dorchester. The Boston Housing Authority will invest federal Capital Fund Program resources to support electrification of the heating and domestic hot water equipment within the buildings. National Grid will develop the geothermal network leading to the building’s exterior, and both parties will collaborate on complementary energy efficiency investments funded by the state’s energy efficiency programs. 

In addition to replacing the boiler loop for heat, the ground source heat pumps and geothermal network will give residents in-unit cooling, a feature that is only accessible at present through inefficient window air conditioners purchased by residents. The project will begin design in early 2024, with construction activity to take place in 2025. BHA will lead resident engagement concerning the project in 2024 with National Grid’s support.

As part of the pilot, National Grid will connect Buildings 7-13, located on Ames Way, Ames Street, and Stratton Street in Dorchester, with a horizontal distribution loop and a thermal bore field. Geothermal bore holes will allow the system to extract and deposit heat from the ground. National Grid will also install a pumphouse on BHA property to operate the geothermal network serving the designated Franklin Field buildings. BHA will be responsible for all work within the envelope of the connected buildings necessary to convert these buildings from gas heating to networked geothermal heating and cooling, including retrofits, electrical upgrades, and appliance and heating equipment replacement. Construction will cause minimal disruption for residents, and require no more than a few days of temporary relocation. 

Mayor Wu also announced that the City of Boston has received $1 million in federal funding to retrofit 80 gas stoves to electric, including induction stoves. This grant was received through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Government-to-Government Program (EJG2G), which funds state, local, territorial, and tribal-level government activities that will have measurable environmental or public health impacts in communities disproportionately burdened by environmental harms. The City has partnered with the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) and Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation (CSNDC) to identify units to retrofit, replace gas appliances with electric, and train residents on induction stove usage. The City is also partnering with Boston University (BU) to study the indoor air quality impact of the retrofitting project to estimate implications of future similar projects. 

The funds, which will be used to retrofit 40 stoves each at the CSNDC’s Talbot Bernard Homes and the BHA’s Franklin Field Apartments, aim to bring health, environmental, and green workforce benefits to Dorchester residents. After conducting building and unit assessments, each stove replacement will come complete with the proper electric infrastructure to best support it, which may potentially include adding 240 V outlets; adding 50 amp breakers to electric panels; and upgrading electric panels. This component of the project will upgrade the electrical capacities of buildings, leading to opportunities to electrify other appliances, such as clothes dryers and heating systems.

“For many residents, new home appliances that make life better and healthier can be the starting point to decarbonization. This project will result in invaluable findings on air quality benefits, as well as a template for how we can scale up delivery of electrical upgrades and fossil fuel-free equipment for residents who live in affordable and public housing,” said Oliver Sellers-Garcia, Director of Boston’s Green New Deal. “I am especially excited that this grant represents such a well-coordinated partnership on Boston’s Green New Deal among city agencies, academia, and a neighborhood non-profit–and of course the Federal government.”   

Building on the Mayor’s Green New Deal to improve public health and quality of life for communities, the City plans to implement indoor air quality monitors and utilize resident surveys to estimate health and financial implications associated with reduced pediatric asthma exacerbations in a future rollout of stove replacements. Studies show that the elimination of gas stoves reduce incidence of childhood asthma and may yield health and healthcare cost improvements.

In the City’s continued efforts in investing in climate, socioeconomic, and health injustices across the neighborhood of Dorchester, the project plans to collaborate and engage with the community as it implements the pilot. To educate and train residents, the City will be utilizing completed unit installations, such as stoves that were replaced in community rooms or vacant rooms, to conduct a series of community wide cooking demonstrations that promote healthy eating and explain the harmful impacts of gas stoves. Through the demonstrations, the City seeks to help residents understand both changes to cooking and cleaning that electric stoves may introduce, as well as the science behind induction cooking.

Geothermal heat pumps have a coefficient of performance (COP) of 4, meaning that they are four times more efficient than standard electric resistance heating. Due to their efficiency, a recent report by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory found that widespread deployment of geothermal heat pumps in the United States could result in up to $1 trillion in cumulative savings, reducing the wholesale price of electricity by up to 12%. 

In January 2023, Mayor Michelle Wu called on the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) to pursue complete decarbonization of its portfolio and retire its gas heating assets. At Franklin Field, the BHA has redirected more than $2 million of previously proposed fossil fuel heating investments to support space heating electrification and will add additional resources to electrify domestic hot water systems. Outside of the Geothermal Pilot, the City of Boston has separately invested $32 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds in Boston Housing Authority projects to improve energy efficiency and indoor air quality at public housing, including at Franklin Field, Alice Taylor, Rosyln and Rockland apartments.

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