Frequently Asked Questions

With decades of experience delivering affordable, reliable, and sustainable district energy to our customers, we’re ready to answer all your questions.

Customer Support

  • How can I contact my local Vicinity facility?

    Each of our locations has a phone number that is staffed 24/7:

    Atlanta: +1 404-745-9445
    Baltimore: +1 410-625-4555
    Boston/Cambridge: +1 617-482-8232
    Grand Rapids: +1 616-456-7438
    Kansas City: +1 816-889-4950
    Morgantown: +1 410-625-4555
    Oklahoma City: +1 405-235-3955
    Philadelphia: +1 215-732-1411
    Trenton: +1 609-858-6800
    Tulsa: +1 918-585-8893
    Washington, D.C.: +1 410-625-4555

    More Contact Information

  • Bill Pay Portal

  • How can I pay my invoice?
    To pay an invoice in the bill pay portal, create your account with your email and set a password, or log in if you are a returning user. Add your account number and go to the ‘Payments’ tab to complete your payment.

  • What do I need to access the customer portal?
    You’ll need your PIN number, which can be found on your invoice, and your account number to create an account in the customer portal. The customer account portal will require you to set a password, which you can use to log in for recurring payments to your account.

  • Where do I access the online payment portal?
    Click the sign-in button in the top right corner of the Vicinity website to pay your invoice online. There is a one-time payment portal and a customer account payment portal, the difference being that the customer account portal requires an email address and password, and the one-time portal doesn’t.

    You can also pay your invoices on your phone by accessing the bill pay portal through the Vicinity website.

  • What are the payment options to pay my invoice online?
    ACH debit and credit card. ACH debit payments are subject to a $1.00 processing transaction fee, and credit payments are subject to a 2.95% processing fee. Please note you can continue paying through your current payment method (paper check, ACH credit, or wire); online payment via credit card or ACH debit is an additional, optional payment method.

    We accept Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover credit cards. The bill pay portal has a $500,000.00 limit per payment.

    You will get a confirmation email from to the email address entered confirming your payment. If you create an auto payment, you will receive an email confirmation that it has been scheduled and another email when it is paid.

  • Can third-party bill payers make payments?
    Yes, third-party bill payers can pay invoices via the Vicinity online bill pay portal, provided that they can access customer accounts and PIN numbers.

  • Can I schedule payments or set up autopay?

    Yes, you can schedule autopay payments within the customer account portal after creating an account. Autopay is not available within the one-time payment portal.

    Customers who sign up for AutoPay enjoy set-it-and-forget-it convenience by automatically having their payment made each month. This capability allows customers to set a preferred payment date (e.g., the 20th calendar date of every month, or the due date on your monthly invoice) and automatically make payment from the customer’s saved bank account or credit card each month. Customers will receive payment confirmation once the payment has been scheduled and another email when it is paid. You can edit or cancel AutoPay elections anytime

  • District Energy

  • What is district energy?

    District energy uses a centrally-located facility, or facilities, to generate thermal energy – heat, hot water, or chilled water – for commercial buildings that form an “energy district.” The energy is transported through underground pipes to meet the needs of commercial and institutional buildings such as life sciences, college and hospital campuses, museums, hospitality, airports, and office parks.

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  • What are the benefits of district energy systems?

    District energy provided multiple advantages:

    • Freedom from asset ownership and the costs associated with maintenance
    • Wholesale energy pricing and stability
    • Efficient energy delivery
    • Greater reliability and redundancy in energy supply
    • Reduced carbon footprint

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  • How quickly can a district energy system recover from a natural disaster event?

    Quickly. District energy systems can isolate issues and have built-in redundancy to leverage multiple generating assets and fuel, power, and water sources to maintain reliable service even in the most demanding weather events.

    If a piece of equipment or utility source is compromised or experiencing any issues, the system can continue to operate by drawing from its backup sources and infrastructure. With insulated carbon steel conduit piping encased in concrete, a district energy network’s distribution system is more robust and resilient than conventional utility alternatives, even during extreme weather events.

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  • Is district energy sustainable?

    Yes. District energy systems are agnostic to fuel type. This fuel flexibility enables the use of lower-carbon, local sources of energy, increasing the resiliency and security of the network and the health of our communities. Decarbonization upgrades to our centralized facilities immediately benefit our entire network. As more new renewable technologies and sources come online, district energy systems can easily integrate these into their existing, robust distribution systems.

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  • Is district energy safe?

    Yes. Unlike onsite generation – which intrinsically involves onsite combustion as part of the energy generation process – district energy is a safer alternative. With district energy, thermal energy is produced at a central facility and distributed to individual buildings via underground piping, eliminating the safety risks associated with onsite generation.

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  • Is steam leaking from manholes in the street?
    No. Water vapor emanating from a manhole or vent in a city street is not a steam leak. It is referred to as secondary vapor resulting from groundwater, potable water, or stormwater coming into close contact with a hot steam pipe and turning into vapor.

  • What is combined heat and power (CHP)?
    Combined heat and power (CHP), also known as cogeneration, is the simultaneous production of electricity and thermal energy from a single energy source. Unlike a traditional power plant that discards excess heat from its power generation process, CHP harnesses this recovered steam for cleanly and efficiently heating and cooling commercial buildings. Two useful end products are created through one process.

  • How does district energy compare to ground source heat pumps/geothermal?

    Ground source heat pumps are not appropriate for all end uses. Converting to a ground-source heat pump would require substantial building retrofits and capital investment for many customers. Further, heat pumps are only sometimes technically viable for many customers, like biotechnology companies, laboratories, or hospitals, with unique energy requirements and high demand. These customers require reliability for critical processes, and heat pumps introduce risk to their operations. If a building uses heat pumps, coupling with district energy ensures reliability and affordability, especially during peaks and carbon neutrality. Finally, inbuilding heat pumps will struggle to meet a building’s temperature requirements on cold days. Below a specific ambient temperature, the heat pump cannot warm up the air in a building to a tenant’s desired comfort level. Comparatively, district energy is a better, more efficient means to heat a building to the appropriate temperature during the winter.   

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  • Decarbonization

  • What is Vicinity's commitment to decarbonization?

    In 2020, Vicinity announced its pledge to achieve net zero carbon emissions across our operations by 2050. Vicinity will eliminate fossil fuels over the next 30 years and rely solely on renewable, carbon-free fuel sources to generate the steam and chilled water we deliver to our customers. We are moving quickly and have made significant progress in meeting our goal.

    Vicinity’s Clean Energy Future articulates our vision and roadmap to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Learn more on our website: Clean Energy Future.

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  • How will Vicinity decarbonize?

    The backbone of Vicinity’s decarbonization plan is the electrification of its operations. Electrified district energy utilizes existing infrastructure at a central facility and the irreplaceable and robust distribution piping to decarbonize urban buildings. Vicinity will import carbon-free electrons through co-located, existing substations to power electric boilers, coupled with industrial-scale heat pumps and thermal batteries, to deliver electrified, clean steam for heating, cooling, sterilization, humidification, and other thermal energy needs.

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  • What progress have you made in achieving your net zero carbon emissions target?

    Vicinity is actively upgrading its operations. We are purchasing renewable and carbon-free electricity to supply power to our equipment and have incorporated biogenic fuels into our operations in Philadelphia, Boston, and Cambridge. We are investing tens of millions in major efficiency projects at our facilities. And we have developed and are executing a robust plan to electrify our steam generation. We are currently procuring our first electric boilers for our facility in Cambridge, MA, and we will purchase renewable energy to power the boilers and deliver carbon-free steam. As part of this plan, we are also pursuing a significant industrial-scale heat pump complex and thermal battery storage.

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  • Can renewables be integrated into district energy systems?

    Yes. While district energy systems have been around for decades, they have an essential role in our effort to decarbonize quickly. District energy systems are agile; they can swiftly and aggressively integrate renewables into their energy mix as more renewable electrons are available on the grid. By replacing fossil fuel infrastructure with electric boilers, heat pumps, thermal batteries, and other clean technology, district energy systems can effectively decarbonize communities without retrofitting or installing new electrical infrastructure in individual buildings.

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  • Can Vicinity help my building meet carbon reductions requirements?

    Yes. Vicinity Energy’s systems are helping commercial buildings meet local carbon reduction requirements, as well as the new Federal Building Perfomance Standard enacted by the Biden Administration.

    Utility-owned district systems, like Vicinity Energy’s, are categorized as indirect, Scope 2 emissions, and not part of the new Federal BPS. Federal buildings connected to Vicinity’s systems can instantly meet the requirements set by the new standard.

    However, we’re not stopping there: we are moving beyond these requirements as we take steps to electrify our operations and decarbonize the cities we serve, and ultimately pass these benefits on to our customers.

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  • What progress have you made in achieving your net zero carbon emissions target to date?

    Vicinity is actively greening our operations. We are investing tens of millions in major efficiency projects at our facilities. We are purchasing renewable and carbon-free electricity to power our equipment and have incorporated biogenic fuels into our operations in Philadelphia, Boston, and Cambridge. Currently, we are installing our first electric boilers, located in Cambridge, MA, and we will purchase renewable energy to power the boilers and deliver carbon-free steam, known as eSteamTM, as part of this plan. We have also signed an agreement with a German-based company called MAN Energy to purchase and install industrialscale heat pumps and thermal battery storage.

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  • Electrification

  • What are the benefits of electrifying district energy?

    The benefits of electrification are numerous. 

    • No expensive retrofits – We eliminate the challenge of converting individual buildings. This solution is faster, more cost-competitive, and less capital intensive than building retrofits under mandates.
    • Existing infrastructure – We will use our network of underground pipes to deliver clean, carbon-free steam to customers. Further, many of our facilities have existing electric substations and transmission lines, so no additional investment is needed to access renewable electrons.
    • Cleaner air – We eliminate new gas “stacks” and fossil-burning infrastructure in individual buildings. Communities benefit from cleaner energy sources, which improve city air quality and remove particulates and other pollutants from our neighborhoods.
    • More affordable Because Vicinity has access to wholesale renewable power, we can procure electricity at much lower rates than the average consumer. Further, Vicinity intends to purchase a lot of its power overnight when prices are lower and store it when our customers need it.
    • Reliability – Our ability to fuel switch allows us to be more reliable than other onsite alternatives. Vicinity’s system has built-in redundancies and will continue to access backup fuels as needed in emergencies.

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  • What is thermal storage, and why is it important?

    As part of Vicinity’s electrification plan, we plan to install molten salt or molten silica thermal batteries, which are an excellent means of storing heat. This technology will allow us to procure renewable electrons when prices are low (typically overnight), produce the thermal energy, and store it so that it’s available when our customers need it.

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  • What is an industrial-scale heat pump?

    Vicinity’s industrial-scale heat pump will extract heat from adjacent water sources, like the Charles and Schuylkill Rivers. The heat pump will harvest energy from these water sources and use it to generate steam and improve the system’s overall efficiency. The technology functions similarly to an air conditioning system but accomplishes the reverse. Vicinity’s heat pump technology will return the water cooler, not impacting the river or the surrounding environment. Vicinity’s heat pump complex could be the largest in the nation.

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  • Will Vicinity continue to operate its combined heat and power (CHP) units once electric boilers are installed?

    Vicinity owns and operates several large cogeneration turbines. By installing electric boilers, Vicinity will gradually transition away from its cogeneration turbine and become an importer of electricity to run the electric boilers. Vicinity will purchase wholesale renewable power, resulting in the generation and distribution of eSteam™, a carbon-free renewable thermal energy product, to customers.  

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  • eSteam™

  • What is eSteam™?

    eSteam™ is Vicinity’s unique and innovative carbon-free renewable energy product. eSteam™ offers maximum flexibility and superior economic benefits compared to alternative onsite solutions. Vicinity uses carbon-free, renewable electricity to generate eSteam™, providing rapid decarbonization for commercial and institutional buildings in city centers.

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  • How will Vicinity create and deliver eSteam™?

    To generate and deliver eSteam™, Vicinity is electrifying its operations by installing electric boilers, industrial-scale heat pumps, and thermal battery storage. Vicinity will procure electricity from renewable, carbon-neutral energy sources like wind, solar, and hydro. Leveraging our existing network of underground pipes, we will deliver eSteam™ to our customers without any effort.

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  • What are the benefits of Vicinity’s eSteam™ product for customers?

    Electrification will enable Vicinity to generate steam with a zero-carbon emissions factor. This means that the eSteam™ energy you purchase from Vicinity is clean and sustainable. By using eSteam™, our customers will be able to enjoy many benefits, including 

    • Carbon-free: eSteam™ is a carbon-free renewable energy product for rapid decarbonization 
    • Maximum flexibility: Customers choose how much eSteam™ they want to use and the carbon-free electricity source
    • Superior economics: eSteam™ is the most affordable option to decarbonize your building compared to onsite alternatives
    • Maximum resiliency: Vicinity’s operational flexibility means that we can switch fuel and generating sources to avoid interruptions 

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  • Will Vicinity's electrification upgrades affect pricing for all customers?

    No. Electrification will not affect customers unless they choose to purchase electrified steam, known as eSteam™. There will be no changes in pricing from Vicinity’s electrification efforts. In the near term, if customers purchase eSteam™, the price will be different than steam generated from fossil fuels. However, our offer will be much more cost-effective than other electrifying alternatives. Because we operate at economies of scale, we can offer our customers the best pricing possible. We aim to manage affordability and sustainability on behalf of our customers. 

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  • VRFs

  • What is a Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) system?

    VRF is a refrigerant based heating and cooling system that utilizes a central outdoor condenser to feed multiple indoor evaporators. There are two main reasons a developer might choose to go with a VRF system—zoning controls and ductwork. VRF allows for more precise zoning controls, so if you need to heat or cool rooms to drastically different temperatures, VRF might be a good choice. Because VRF uses a central outdoor condenser, it also means there is less indoor equipment needed, such as separate window AC units for every room. This also keeps things quieter indoors.

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  • What capital costs are associated with a VRF system compared to district energy?

    VRF systems require upfront capital costs to install. Additionally, the average life of a compressor is about 10-15 years, and they range in costs from $5k to $15k in commercial buildings. Because district energy does not require cooling or heating equipment onsite, there are typically no upfront costs associated with connecting to a district energy system—unlike the high upfront capital costs required for boilers, chillers, and cooling towers. Many district energy providers are even willing to invest in connecting a building to the district system and will cover the cost of any potential street repairs and beautification. Plus, existing ductwork in a commercial building can often be retrofitted to accommodate district energy.

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  • What type of maintenance is required with a VRF system?

    VRF systems consist of multiple complex pieces of equipment which require qualified HVAC mechanics to repair and maintain. This means either keeping HVAC technicians on staff or hiring a vendor each time maintenance or repairs are required.

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  • What is the electricity reliance associated with a VRF system compared to district energy?

    VRF systems require electricity to run, which exposes buildings to multiple risks—including volatile electricity rates based on peak demand and policy changes that may drive those rates up in the future. And, in the event of a loss of electricity, the building would lose heating and cooling as well—which is potentially dangerous to occupants and could damage equipment and assets in the building.

    District systems are a great source of reliable energy, whether heating or cooling. The robust underground steel-encased pipes of a district network are reliable even in severe weather, and district energy systems maintain 99.99% uptime. Additionally, because its central facilities are fueled by multiple sources and have bult-in redundancies, reliable district energy cooling and heating is available even in the event of electrical losses. This is critical for the wellbeing of occupants and the protection of sensitive assets and equipment, especially for mission-critical facilities like hospitals, public safety facilities or laboratories.

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  • What are the space demands of a VRF system compared to district energy?

    VRF systems are normally housed on rooftops, which precludes that space from being used for building amenities, such as lounges and gardens. Additionally, there is a misconception that VRF systems do not require ductwork—though ductwork is certainly required to ensure safe air cycling in a building, especially as a result of COVID-inspired code changes to keep building occupants safe.

    District energy does not require rooftop chillers or compressors, freeing up rooftop space for amenities, a solar array, or other storage or equipment needs. This also means no rooftop penetration—which can reduce risk of damage due to a compromised building envelope.

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  • Are there energy-saving benefits associated with district energy?

    Because district energy does not rely on electricity, building peak usage would be much lower than with VRF or installing electric units. That means that variable loads for heating or cooling would be drastically reduced—creating a flat load profile with lower demand charges.

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