Renewable energy agreement fuels schools’ green efforts

February 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

The recent renewable energy agreement between Appalachian Power Company, Collegiate Clean Energy and five Virginia colleges has thrown sustainability efforts in Lynchburg completely off schedule — in a good way.

This will cut greenhouse gas emissions at Randolph College by 65 to 70 percent, said Ludovic Lemaitre, the college’s sustainability coordinator.

The historic college now is “36 years ahead of schedule” on its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050, he said.

After a year of research and collaboration, Lynchburg, Randolph and Sweet Briar colleges — as well as Emory Henry College and Hollins University — made a commitment in January to power their campuses with energy derived from landfill gas.

Collectively, the schools will save between $3.2 million and $6.4 million over the next 12 years.

For more than five years, Lynchburg, Randolph and Sweet Briar colleges — along with nearly 700 institutions of higher education across the country — have been working to fulfill the promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions made when they signed President Barack Obama’s “American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.”

“We’ve made a tremendous step forward,” said Scott Shank, Sweet Briar College vice president for finance and administration.

Without sacrificing the integrity of the historic school or making students uncomfortable, Shank said Sweet Briar is committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2030.

January’s renewable energy agreement gives the colleges a significant boost.

“It’s always challenging because energy consumption is an issue” on college campuses, where students bring multiple devices that have to be powered and numerous buildings have to be heated and cooled, Shank said.

The school recently switched to a different fuel source, which has a smaller carbon footprint than the propane it had been using.

“But we are still not where we want to be,” Shank said.

Like most institutions across the country, Sweet Briar is not in a position to, nor does it wish to, tear out the old to replace it with the latest in energy-efficient technology. Countless institutions are known for their historic architecture and unique character.

“As opportunities arise we try to capture them,” Shank said. “Our desire is to be environmental leaders,” creating a greater demand for green energy, making it more attractive for companies to provide it for consumers.

Businesses are responding.

Lynchburg College’s partnership with the Greater Lynchburg Transit Company generated revenue for the system, while reducing cars on campus and carbon emissions.

Four years ago, Lynchburg College’s energy provider helped the college reduce energy consumption on campus by more than 30 percent and water consumption by more than 40 percent with mechanical upgrades.

Firms have collaborated with the college to build parking lots with more water permeable space, to save money and solve drainage problems.

While moves like this reveal institutions’ social consciousness, colleges may be achieving something even more important in the sustainability movement.

This is part of our students’ education, said Stephen Bright, Lynchburg College’s vice president for business and finance.

“These are discussions that [are] taking place in student groups and in our environmental studies classes. This is part of their education and not just part of a cost-savings effort. Students are interested in these things and they should be.”

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