Nov 18, 2022 - Business

Energy supplier boosts Boston's electric-powered heating push

Vicinity executives walk beside Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, all of them wearing white hard hats, as they head into the company's Cambridge steam plant.

Vicinity Energy CEO Bill DiCroce, center left, speaks with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, center right, as they head into the Kendall Square energy station. Photo: Steph Solis/Axios

The push to wean Boston's commercial buildings off fossil fuels reached another milestone this week.

What's happening: Boston-based energy supplier Vicinity Energy pushes steam through a century-old network of underground pipes beneath Boston and Cambridge to heat buildings across 70 million square feet.

  • Now it's electrifying that system and getting demand from companies seeking electric-powered heating and cooling.

Driving the news: Vicinity signed a contract with developer IQHQ to supply electric powered heat to its upcoming Fenway biotech campus, Vicinity CEO Bill DiCroce said yesterday outside the company's Kendall Square steam plant. The campus will include a 960,000-square-foot life sciences space and a nearly 300,000-square-foot project at 109 Brookline Ave.

  • Meanwhile, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu joined DiCroce at Kendall Square to celebrate the decommissioning of one of the company’s gas boilers, which will be replaced by an electric boiler.

Why it matters: Buildings account for nearly 70% of carbon emissions in Boston, but come 2025 the city will require buildings of at least 20,000 square feet to cut emissions.

  • Many of the city's largest buildings are in downtown Boston or Back Bay, which are part of Vicinity's district.
  • Once the company finishes electrifying its system in 2024, it can supply electric-powered heating and cooling to buildings seeking to meet the city's requirements without needing to install any new infrastructure.

What they're saying: "The huge potential here is that their footprint already extends in the downtown and Back Bay area where many of the city's largest areas are, it is a relatively inexpensive and simple conversion process as a first step here," Wu, who campaigned on a promise to shrink the city's carbon footprint, told Axios after the tour.

What's next: DiCroce believes the next three contracts Vicinity signs will be for development projects on the Boston side, followed by two on the Cambridge side, though he didn't say what companies are involved.

  • Over the next decade, the company aims to install a third large pipe that runs across the Charles River and connects the Kendall Square facility to the underground pipes in the Fenway neighborhood so it can deliver energy more efficiently to clients like IQHQ.

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