Smith College Partnership on New Solar Power Facility with Four Other Liberal Arts Colleges

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Alice Mungyu ’19, editor in chief

Smith College is partnering with Amherst, Hampshire, Williams and Bowdoin colleges to build a new solar power facility in Farmington, Maine.

This is a collaborative effort that will allow the colleges to offset 46,000 megawatt hours per year off their collective electrical needs. To put this into perspective, this a utility-scale solar power facility can annually create enough electricity to power about 5,000 New England homes.

Sustainability Director Dano Weisbord spoke to the Sophian to give more information on this exciting project. “The Sustainability, Facilities and Finance departments of all five colleges involved were very careful about the contract we chose. One of the important things was hat our purchase should come from a new renewable electricity generation facility in the New England region,” said Weisbord.

“Put another way, our ability and desire to purchase renewable electricity will lead to the development of a new renewable electricity generation facility, and should not be a purchase from an existing facility.”

“This project also fixes the price for our purchased electricity for 20 years. This kind of budget predictability is beneficial to the college. Finally, we could not have done this on our own. Smith alone is not a big enough purchaser to access developers of these kinds of projects. Through collaborative participation, we helped each of the other five colleges involved, and they helped us,” continues Weisbord.

This sustainability effort will have profound impact on Smith. It will reduce carbon dioxide emissions associated with energy use on campus by about 10 per cent.

“In the longer run, we plan to burn less fossil fuel and use more electricity. This is good, so long as that electricity comes from renewable sources. This first purchase demonstrates that this concept is possible. In addition, converting our electricity use from fossil sources to renewable electricity also improves air quality,” said Weisbord.

In addition, this investment will provide educational opportunities for Smith students. nce the project is completed, Weisbord plans on having the option to take students o the facility or to access data coming from the site.

“Switching our electricity from fossil fuel generated electricity to renewable generated electricity is very important. A better thing is to use less electricity in the first place. Since most Smith students live on campus, the potential impact from students turning off lights in their rooms and around campus, and unplugging unused electric device in their rooms can make a BIG difference. Ask the eco-rep in your house, or better yet, become an eco-rep,” said Weisbord.

The facility is expected to open in 2019. The developer, NextEra, has begun a complicated regulatory process that will allow them to build this facility.

Smith will purchase around 30 percent of its electricity through the partnership. The Renewable Partnership will reduce college greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent, bringing Smith closer to its goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

“When we promise to buy the output, this is financial backing that the developer will use to borrow money to pay for construction. We had a very committed group of finance, facilities, and sustainability people from Amherst, Bowdoin, Hampshire, and Williams working together along with a great consulting firm helping us -- Competitive Energy Services.”

“When you do projects with lots of partners in many organizations, it helps to have someone who is tasked with making sure that the project keeps moving forward. This was Smith's role, carried out by me and Mike Howard EVP for Finance and Administration,” said Weisbord.