Climate Action Plan Update

solar energy facility

March 4, 2022

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

We write to provide an update on the progress we’ve made toward the College’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 through our ambitious Climate Action Plan (CAP)

Our last letter, in November, noted that our New England College Renewable Partnership’s solar energy facility went online, providing renewable electricity to meet nearly all of our purchased electricity needs and reducing campus CO2 emissions by more than 3,200 metric tons per year, or 17.5% of our carbon footprint. 

We also noted that the centerpiece of CAP, the transformation of our fossil fuel-based infrastructure to a renewable energy-based “low temperature, hot water” infrastructure, had reached a design milestone, but cost estimates were considerably higher than anticipated due to pandemic-related market complications coupled with the complexities of the campus’s underground routing structure. Supply chain disruption also contributed to the College’s decision to delay the anticipated Spring ’22 Phase I start of this generational project. Despite these challenges, however, we are pleased and confident that the completion target of 2030 can be maintained.

Over the past three months since the announcement of the delay, the College’s in-house project team, along with a group of engineering consultants and construction managers, have been able to capitalize on this extra design time to significantly enhance the engineering, logistics, and operational efficiencies of the new system. Through that work, a core goal has been achieved: identifying opportunities to reduce capital costs for the new system with minimal compromise to both life-cycle costs and, critically, carbon footprint. 

The College is at the forefront of rapidly evolving engineering strategies for such a system, largely spurred on by significant recent advances in industrial-scale heat pump technology. These high-tech machines are central to the global adoption of renewable energy-based building heating and cooling; understandably, a great deal of investment and advancement is now occurring. Our team is developing a strategy that includes both air-source and ground-source heat pump technology. In our climate, enhanced efficiency is achieved by coupling these two kinds of systems, each of which very effectively addresses different aspects of our thermal needs. Design changes are being developed that reduce lengths and depths of piping, thereby reducing the cost without compromising system performance. Additionally, we are exploring piping material options for the new network and studying construction logistics and scheduling to increase the speed and efficiency of installation, further lowering costs. 

Importantly, the CAP design strategy is being developed for flexibility so that we can take advantage of the likely increases in equipment efficiency and performance expected in the energy equipment sector over the duration of the project. We will begin with the implementation of fundamental aspects of the system, including the distribution piping and building conversion for the new low-temperature hot water system, to be followed by the installation of heat pump technology.

The design’s evolution during this period has enabled updated financial modeling of the operation of the new infrastructure over the many years of its life, generating analyses that incorporate not only construction costs, but energy procurement costs, likely carbon taxes and operational costs. The additional time has also provided a clear understanding that, because the peak demand for heat occurs for only a few hours per year—and is significantly greater than the more typical winter daily peak demand—a large portion of the original system would sit idle the vast majority of the time, doing nothing to reduce global CO2 emission, but with considerable embodied carbon emissions from the manufacturing of the equipment. The slightly modified system that has emerged during the redesign process will be more economical, although it will result in a nominal residual amount of CO2 emissions to meet the peak demand. The final system design and equipment performance will determine the exact amount of onsite residual emissions, but estimates are that the proposed system will cut current infrastructure emissions by an impressive 90-95% and perhaps more. It is important to note that through benchmarking with similar institutions with Climate Action Plans we have learned that some minor level of residual emissions is common. 

In lieu of the prohibitive added cost of sizing the system for extreme peak loads, the College will consider and fund a range of effective means to offset any residual emissions to ensure we meet our carbon neutrality commitment.  While it’s acknowledged that there is a range in the quality and effectiveness of carbon offsets, there are high quality and creative offsets that can be objectively tracked and quantified. A range of offset opportunities will be considered, including environmental preservation initiatives and direct investment in community energy conservation projects. We are confident that these types of offset investments can reduce carbon emissions and will benefit the surrounding community in numerous ways.   

Most importantly, our team is working toward an implementation that will commence in early Spring 2023, and we remain confident that the College’s 2030 target will be achieved.

We will host a virtual open session in March for any members of the community who have questions about the plan or want to know more. The details will be announced in the Daily Mammoth.

Sincerely,

Jim Brassord
Chief of Campus Operations

Tom Davies
Director of Design and Construction

Wes Dripps
Director of Sustainability