The College presented a draft of its Climate Neutrality Implementation Plan to the Board of Trustees this past weekend, officially announcing its commitment to becoming carbon neutral by 2020. Now, Bowdoin will seek input and recommendations from the Board and campus community before it submits the plan to the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) by early December.
Trustee Leonard Cotton '71, member of the Climate Commitment Advisory Committee, said the trustees were "almost universally enthusiastic" about the plan's draft, and that he supported the plan's flexibility and commitment to emerging technologies.
"The consensus was that this is a good thing we're doing, we know that it's a tough order," he said. "Being a first-class educational organization, we ought to be on the forefront of stuff like this, we ought to be pushing ourselves."
To meet its zero-emissions goal by 2020, the College created a plan that promotes energy efficiency and methods to incorporate environmental literacy into the academic program. Bowdoin will continue to purchase Maine-sourced renewable energy credits (RECs) to offset 41 percent of its total carbon emissions and help fund local green initiatives.
Another 28-percent reduction will come from a drop in own-source emissions, 7 percent from efficiency improvements in the power grid, and 1 percent from commuting and fuel-efficiency improvements. The remaining 23 percent of emissions will be offset by other technology improvements or REC purchases.
Focusing on own-source emissions reductions and behavioral changes on campus, by 2020 the College plans to switch to efficient LED lighting and Energy Star rated equipment, replace outdated heating equipment, replace all single-pane windows in Hawthorne-Longfellow Library and Coles Tower, and install a more efficient Coles Tower elevator.
The College will also switch to natural gas heating, transition to an all-hybrid vehicle fleet, improve energy efficiency in campus buildings through renovations, and install solar energy systems at Farley Field House and the Naval Air Station.
Affording carbon neutrality
Despite the economic downturn, President Barry Mills said that significant progress towards carbon neutrality will come "out of efficiencies we'll create from doing major maintenance work that we've already planned" and "using our dollars smarter."
"Our commitment to sustainability, to climate change, to our place in the environment hasn't wavered because of the economic crisis that the world has felt," said Mills.
Faced with the high costs of cleaner technology and an "aggressive" deadline for neutrality in 2020, Senior VP for Finance and Administration & Treasurer Catherine Longley said the College will need to plan purchases based on their costs and return on investments, not just their effect on offsetting emissions.
Waiting for costs to go down is key, according to Senior Energy Analyst at Competetive Energy Services Andy Price '96.
He said that if the College were to purchase all of its efficiency upgrades this year and then account for their energy-saving benefits, Bowdoin would run close to a $10 million deficit by 2020. By making purchases as efficiencies improve and costs drop, however, the College predicts a $2 million benefit by 2020.
For example, at current prices, it would cost about $10 million for the College to purchase a 10-acre solar energy system at the Brunswick Naval Air Base, and the system would produce energy at nearly double today's costs. Longley and others anticipate that within 10 years, costs should drop to market parity and introduce cost savings.
Another big plan is the College's anticipated $3 million expenditure to complete the cogeneration boiler replacement project at the campus utility plant, which, starting in 2012, is expected to save nearly $230,000 annually. The College anticipates spending $2.1 million to replace the single-pane windows in Coles Tower and H-L Library, with only $37,000 in annual savings.
To cover such costs, the College cannot rely on its year-to-year operating budget. Longley said the College will seek funding through grants, long-term debts and major maintenance budgets.
Longley said that the College currently spends about $35,000 a year on RECs from renewable energy companies in Maine. By 2020, to meet its carbon neutrality goal, the College will have spent spend approximately $500,000 on RECs.
While Longley said that "our preference is to do our own-source conservation projects," it is "unavoidable" to buy RECs to offset some emissions, and allows an earlier date for neutrality.
Bowdoin on track, ahead of peers
To date, 657 colleges and universities in America have signed the ACUPCC and begun developing carbon-neutral plans, although many have filed extensions past the original September 15 deadline.
According to the ACUPCC Web site, in comparison to Bowdoin's gross reported carbon emissions of 24,577 metric tons of CO2e in 2008 (and offsets of 30.1 percent), Colby reported 18,574 metric tons of CO2e (offsetting 5.1 percent), and Bates reported a 2007 level of only 9,306 metric tons of CO2e (with zero offset).
Each school is taking a different approach to reduce emissions: Middlebury plans to be carbon-neutral by 2016, Pomona is aiming for a 20 percent reduction by 2020, and Cornell University won't be neutral until 2050.
Program Director and Rusack Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology Phil Camill said that Bowdoin's "fairly aggressive timetable for 2020 neutrality... demonstrates our leadership and our ability to engage these issues in a serious way."
Some schools, such as the University of New Hampshire, are using more expensive projects to generate a majority of their energy or offset more than half of their carbon emissions.
Adding to our academic program
Longley said that the environment will "no doubt" be one of the most significant policy issues for students today, a sentiment echoed by both Camill and Mills.
"What excites me most about all of this is actually the possibility of creating a commitment by all of us to what is one of the central elements to the Common Good," Mills said. "It is convenient that this is an issue that young people, our students, feel passionately about."
One of the main goals of the plan, Camill said, is to introduce environmental literacy into new disciplines at Bowdoin—to develop an environmental frame of analysis in other disciplines, comparable to the use of race, class, or gender as analysis tools.
"The other important aspect of this report is to be an educational tool, to use in the classroom, to test our concepts and theories—to inform students on the bigger issues so that when they leave Bowdoin they'll be better informed," Longley said.
Payson agreed that "we have our work cut out for us." While Payson said that she's not asking students to be extreme in their conservation efforts, she encourages responsibility about energy and waste.
"It takes time, change is not going to happen overnight," she said.
Overall, Longley said that the plan will face a lot of challenges to come.
"The fascinating thing will be to look back in 2020, to see if we did achieve carbon neutrality and whether the final projects were different from those set out in 2009," Longley said.
For a copy of the report online, see "Related Links" above.