Wellesley’s multi-pronged effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions could one day include underground water-based networks for heating and cooling buildings that provide an alternative to traditional natural gas systems and better position the town’s resilience during times of extreme weather conditions and natural disasters.
The Climate Action Committee discussed at its Nov. 2 meeting (see Wellesley Media recording, about 10 minutes in) research conducted to look into possibly applying for a grant of up to $50,000 for studying the feasibility of setting up geothermal networks in the community.
Wellesley Sustainability Director Marybeth Martello’s team worked with the town’s GIS department and tapped consultants who have worked with other communities, including Framingham, that are piloting geothermal networks. Martello said the team learned a lot about the most important criteria for networked geothermal, though concluded that Wellesley wouldn’t likely qualify for the HEET grant, which had certain requirements for supporting underserved communities and for matching funds (Martello said doing a feasibility study in Wellesley probably would have cost about $100,000 overall). While some locations might benefit from geothermal networks, setting them up in areas bisected by railroad tracks or highways would be impractical.
See also: Wellesley Climate Action Plan
“We learned from HEET that networked geothermal is viable in suburban communities,” Martello said, adding that conducting the research should position the town to better take advantage of future geothermal network opportunities. “I think we found some potentially excellent places for geothermal to explore further.”
The town decided not to go the geothermal route with projects in recent years, such as the Town Hall renovation and building the new Hardy and Hunnewell Elementary Schools, in part due to high costs (not that geothermal networks might not pay off over time). School Committee member Catherine Mirick said during the Climate Action Committee meeting that she had recently learned of a Massachusetts School Building Authority effort to offer grants specifically for geothermal heating and cooling implementations, so the future is promising on this front.
Individual school projects might be one thing, but the town’s ambitions for geothermal networks serving broader resiliency goals would cover entire neighborhoods, where the economics of the new technology would be more attractive. Such networks could also make the town less reliant on the aging gas pipes whose leaks create health issues, and in fact a multi-community group that focuses on gas leaks soon plans to hold a session on geothermal networks.
Intertwined with such geothermal heating and cooling networks could be microgrids for electricity fueled through renewable energy resources that would make Wellesley less reliant on the ISO New England power grid. Such microgrids have been discussed in town as well, as we reported a few years back. Geothermal networks for heating and cooling would also require energy to run the pumps that make such systems go.
“When I look at the bigger picture,” said Climate Action Committee member Ellen Korpi (also with the Municipal Light Plant Board and Board of Public Works), “it’s not just a climate itssue. It’s so much of a resilience issue that I really worry about. We really need to all be looking at microgrids and more energy independence in Wellesley.”