Community Involvement in Campus Geothermal Project Gets a Boost

Dillan Patel Image by Brooke Coupal
Dillan Patel spent 10 weeks working with UML's Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy.

By Brooke Coupal

As a native of England and a former graduate student at Rutgers University, Dillan Patel had until recently never stepped foot in Lowell. Now, he feels like he's part of the community.

Through the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Climate Corps fellowship program, Patel has spent the summer with UMass Lowell’s Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy to help create a community outreach plan for the geothermal pilot project on South Campus.

“This was not an opportunity that I wanted to pass up,” says Patel, who chose to complete his fellowship at UML over companies like Google and AT&T because it offered him the opportunity to interact with several city organizations.

Patel is the first EDF fellow to come to UML.

Earlier this year, UMass Lowell partnered with the city of Lowell and National Grid to evaluate the potential use of geothermal energy to heat and cool nearby residential and commercial buildings. The university was the first site selected for the utilities company’s five-year geothermal pilot project.

Patel met with members of Coalition for a Better Acre, Solidarity Lowell and other local groups to find the best ways to raise awareness about geothermal energy and make sure that community voices are incorporated into the pilot project.

“Informing is the first step,” he says. “We also need to listen to people and understand their needs.”

Patel also spoke with UML faculty members, including Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Science Prof. Juliette Rooney-Varga and Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Asst. Prof. Jasmina Burek, to learn about their sustainability research projects.

“Between discussions with community organizations, the research that is being done by UML faculty and the efforts of City Energy Manager Katherine Moses ’12 and energy advocates, triangulating all of those with the geothermal project can really help maximize energy efficiency adoption,” he says.

Geothermal sign 2 Image by Brooke Coupal
A geothermal pilot project sign outside of the Rist Institute building on South Campus.

Patel came up with a more than 70-page report along with a visual Story Map on how to get the community engaged with the pilot project. One of his suggestions is to host workshops at places like the Lowell Senior Center and Pollard Memorial Library, where people can learn more about the project and give their input.

Noticing murals painted on buildings throughout the city and on UML’s campus, Patel also suggested having a mural painted on the geothermal pump house once it’s built in the corner of the Wilder Parking Lot on South Campus. He says this would help create community awareness of the project.

“I’m only here for the summer, but wherever I go, I hope to continue supporting this project,” says Patel, who is looking for a full-time job in environmental or energy planning in the United States.

“This fellowship has given me a lot of knowledge and hands-on experience,” he adds. “The support that I’ve gotten from the Rist Institute was immeasurable.”

Patel’s report has been passed on to the Rist Institute for review.

“It’s been a pleasure having Dillan working with us this summer because of his passion for clean, renewable energy and his commitment to maximizing the positive benefits of the networked geothermal project for Lowell’s residents, our community partners and UML’s research, teaching and learning,” says Sustainability Director Craig Thomas.

Rist Institute Executive Director Ruairi O'Mahony says he is excited to work with more fellows in the future.

“Dillan’s fellowship is incredibly important to us, as it comes on the back of a multiyear collaboration with the Environmental Defense Fund,” he says. “We look forward to continued collaboration with EDF, along with establishing UMass Lowell as an annual destination for the fellowship program.”