<< Front page News April 16, 2004

College to buy green energy

Waste equals food: The Living Machine cleans wastewater for reuse

The College is finalizing an agreement between the town and its local utility to purchase 60 percent of its electrical energy from green sources that minimize environmental damage in the process of energy production.

The pending green energy purchase was introduced at a panel discussion Monday.

Environmental Studies Professor John Petersen said the College’s decision to purchase green energy is part of a comprehensive environmental policy initiated by College President Nancy Dye. The energy related portion of this policy aims to both reduce energy use on campus and shift to greener energy sources.

Petersen said the shift would significantly reduce the College’s greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, 90 percent of the College’s electricity comes from coal combustion. This level of coal combustion, combined with emissions such as those caused by heating and transportation, emits 50,400 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, equal to 17 tons per student a year. By converting to 60 percent green electricity, the College would decrease its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent, the equivalent of 12,600 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Oberlin Municipal Light and Power System currently receives 10 percent of its total energy per year from a hydroelectric dam on the Ohio River in West Virginia, and four percent from burning methane gas emitted by the local BFI landfill. While dams often have negative effects on the environment, Petersen said this dam has little negative impact.

“The dam was originally constructed for navigation purposes and not to generate electricity,” Petersen said. “The hydroelectric plant was added later to the existing structure. Because of its purpose, the dam does not flood the river and create a large basin which destroys existing ecosystems.”

The dam raises the level of the banks only high enough to ease navigation, which, Petersen said, is reported to improve recreational fishing.

Both energy sources have been “Green-e” certified by the Center for Resource Solutions, a non-profit organization that certifies that the green energy meets environmental standards and is only being bought once.

Formerly, this energy was purchased from OMLPS by Green Mountain Energy, who then sold it to other companies. Petersen said that if the College purchases this energy, it would increase the market demand for green energy.

“If you want to stimulate the development of green energy in this country, you have to expand the market,” Petersen said.

Petersen said the town will benefit environmentally and economically from the purchase. OLMPS will recycle the premium that the College pays to purchase the green energy back into the community through newly created “Sustainable Energy Reserve Fund.” This fund, which would be managed by city council, will be used to create ecological and economical benefits. Petersen expressed a hope that, in its unique way of maximizing the benefits of green energy, the establishment of this fund would be seen as a model for other communities to follow.

OMLPS Director Steve Dupee said that OMLPS was able to originally invest in the dam and landfill because of the interest by the town. This investment will eventually allow the College or town to purchase the electricity created there.

“The public has a direct say in OMLPS,” Dupee said. “I believe that this agreement is a direct effect of that.”

While Dupee said that green energy is quickly becoming more affordable, it is currently more expensive than using dirtier sources, especially coal, which is very cheap in this region.

“Electricity generated with coal is very inexpensive only because the environmental costs are not paid for in the electrical bill,” Petersen said.

“If these costs were included in the price of coal, it would be much more expensive than greener sources.”

The College has chosen to meet the three percent increase in the price electricity by instituting conservation measures.

Associate facilities director Eric McMillion said his department is working to make the College’s electrical facilities more environmentally sound. He said five to eight percent of the College’s energy currently comes from steam created as a byproduct of heating. McMillon said the College is working to make heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and electrical water chillers the most consumptive facilities more efficient. McMillion encouraged students to help conserve energy by telling RA about any heating problems in the dorm and turning off lights and other electrical units when not in use.

Senior Michael Murray of Climate Justice introduced the first annual Dorm Energy Competition.

“The goal of this competition is to put dorms head to head in a contest to reduce energy use for two weeks,” Murray said.

“Our primary goal is education rather than conservation,” Climate Justice member Kate Weinberger said. “I’ve found that the average student doesn’t know much about energy use at Oberlin. If you want to change anything, I think that education is the first step.”

The 15-day competition, which will conclude April 26, divides all the dorms in half depending on whether or not the dorm has a large kitchen.

The dorm that reduces its electricity use the most from what it used in September of 2003 wins. Students can check their dorms’ progress at www.oberlin.edu/envs/dorm.html.

Petersen said students have a role in making positive environmental change at Oberlin.

“I think it is often frustrating for students to work on changing policies at Oberlin because they are often not here long enough to see the results of their efforts,” he said. “The school is like a battleship once the navigational decisions are made, it takes a long time and requires patience to turn the boat around. But students are critical to the navigation process. If you care about something as a student at Oberlin, you can make an enormous impact on this institution.”


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