Amherst College aims to achieve climate neutrality by 2030 through transformative modernization of our energy system from fossil fuels to renewable electricity. By focusing on eliminating fossil fuel combustion, we will not have to rely on carbon offsets to meet our goal. In addition, we aim to go beyond just carbon neutrality on our own campus, inspiring graduates who will lead change on a much larger scale.
About Our Plan
November 17, 2021: See an update on the Climate Action Plan in a letter to campus from Jim Brassord.
Our plan is designed to achieve reductions that are desirable, necessary and real. We have done the initial work to determine the technical and financial feasibility of this transformation, and laid the educational groundwork through the Department of Environmental Studies and the Office of Environmental Sustainability.
Climate change is a complex issue with complex solutions, and our path forward will not be without challenges. We are committed to transparency and inclusion as we move into implementation. An advisory committee of faculty, staff and students will be formed to consider key issues as we implement the plan, and we will share regular progress updates with the community at large. In addition, we look forward to engaging with our loyal and dedicated alumni, from whom we can learn and garner further support for climate action at Amherst.The determination and outstanding work of our community has gotten us to this point, and we look forward to continuing to work together and push each other to aggressively pursue this commitment.
The following key actions will be necessary to meet our goal:
Action: Transition the campus’s heating and cooling systems from steam to low-temperature hot water.
By heating and cooling our campus with water instead of steam, we open up the possibility to create heating and cooling without fossil fuel combustion. Doing this will require a new distribution network around campus. While some of our most recently renovated and constructed buildings have the capacity to operate with low-temperature hot water, many others will need to be retrofitted for this technology change.
Action: Create low-temperature hot water through ground-source heat pumps.
The benefit of low-temperature hot water is that we can create it without fossil fuel combustion. A ground-sourced heating system powered by electric heat pumps will allow us to use energy from the earth and heat it to the required temperatures using electricity. To do this, we will need to drill and install a closed-loop geothermal well system connected to heat pumps.
Action: Procure zero-emission renewable electricity to meet all our heating, cooling and electrical needs.
To meet our electrical demand with zero-carbon energy, we will explore solar and other renewable technologies on and off campus through a range of ownership and financing options. In 2018 we announced a project that will enable us to procure 10,000 MWh of solar power from Maine for 20 years beginning in 2020. While this is a great start, moving to electric heat pumps will require us to procure more renewable energy.
Action: Reduce our energy load and reap greater benefits from our new energy system.
Reducing our energy load through building improvements, energy efficiency projects and behavior change will ensure this system is financially and technically viable. In many ways we are already excelling at this, through the creation of the Greenway Dorms and new Science Center, as well as investment in energy meters to analyze and present energy data more effectively. In addition to advancing that work, we will also need to consider novel ways of reducing our peak energy demands to reduce or eliminate the need for backup combustion power sources.
Action: Provide deep engagement and experiential learning opportunities related to climate action.
Climate change is an immense problem, one that is difficult to solve due to its complex, interconnected and sometimes contradictory nature. Many aspects of liberal arts education, such as diverse and multidisciplinary approaches to critical thinking, problem solving and solution implementation, will be crucial to addressing climate change. By connecting the technical aspects of this plan to educational opportunities and continued partnerships among campus constituents, alumni as well as peer institutions and community organizations, we will prepare our students to lead on climate change, expanding the impact of our plan and going “beyond carbon-neutral.”