College announces carbon neutrality
April 20, 2018
On Thursday, President Clayton Rose announced that the College has achieved its goal of being carbon neutral by 2020 two years earlier than expected, after years of planning and implementing energy-saving measures across campus and beyond. In order to reach the goal, Bowdoin is partnering with several other colleges to support the construction of the largest solar facility in Maine, which will supply the College with renewable energy credits.
Bowdoin follows in the footsteps of two other Maine schools—Colby and the College of the Atlantic—as well as Middlebury in going carbon neutral. Over 600 colleges and universities across the country have committed to reaching carbon neutrality.
“We are pausing today to celebrate this achievement a full two years ahead of schedule, and we are simultaneously renewing our pledge to keep moving forward,” wrote Rose in an email to the Bowdoin community.
In 2007, President Barry Mills signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). The College’s Climate Neutrality Implementation Plan was submitted to ACUPCC in 2009. The plan aimed to reduce Bowdoin’s self-produced emissions 28 percent by 2020.
Bowdoin’s plan involved reducing carbon emissions by a certain percentage and then purchasing carbon offsets and renewable energy credits (RECs) to make up the rest. Carbon offsets and RECs allow the College to invest in renewable energy projects elsewhere and then apply the carbon emissions reductions from those projects to the institution’s energy budget.
Anna Hamilton ’20 expressed disappointment with this strategy.
“As an [environmental studies] student, I learn about all these innovative technologies for efficient heat and energy sources, and it feels like the school is buying their way out instead of making tangible changes on campus,” she said.
“That’s not to say that it’s not great that it’s on their agenda, and that it’s something that the school values, but it feels like we can do better,” she continued.
Bowdoin has also entered into an agreement with renewable energy company NextEra Energy and Amherst, Williams, Hampshire and Smith colleges to construct a solar field in Farmington, Maine. It will be the largest solar field in Maine, over seven times larger than the current largest. Once completed, the field will create enough energy to offset 50 percent of Bowdoin’s total energy usage and will reduce the College’s own-source emissions by 11 percent. This will supplement the 29 percent reduction in own-source emissions that Bowdoin has made so far and bring the College to its goal.
Since making the commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020, Bowdoin has engaged in a number of projects to make the campus more energy efficient. These have included further insulating buildings, installing LED lighting and renovating the on-campus heating plant, among other measures.
In his email, Rose also mentioned the development of another, more “ambitious 2030 plan,” representing an ongoing effort toward sustainability.
“Notwithstanding these two milestones, our work is far from done,” he wrote.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article mistakenly stated in the ninth paragraph that Bowdoin has reduced its own-source emissions by 19 percent since 2009. The College has reduced its emissions by 29 percent. The article has been updated to reflect this.
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Ms. Hamilton’s critique is on point that the College shouldn’t be buying its way to neutrality with voluntary RECs. At the same time, I am glad to hear that the college is committing to going beyond using voluntary RECs to achieve carbon neutrality. The solar project with Nextra Energy and partner schools is an good first step to scale solar in Maine and reduce the College’s own source emissions. I hope Bowdoin continues to participate in these types of projects in the future.