October 6, 2009

Already renowned for its state-of-the-art cogeneration plant that recycles hot exhaust to generate steam, Amherst College’s electrical use has become even greener lately, thanks to a new agreement that’s bringing power to the campus from Canada.

College officials inked the initial three-month deal with TransCanada in June, and recently renewed it for another three months, primarily because the utility company produces about 50 percent of its electricity using renewable resources such as water and wind at a price that’s competitive with other providers.

“The power we were purchasing previously was primarily derived from traditional sources – coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear,” said Jim Brassord, associate treasurer and director of facilities at Amherst College. “TransCanada has a much stronger renewable component.”

“This agreement allows the college to buy greener electricity at a very competitive price during times when the cogeneration plant can’t provide enough for the college,” he added. “We’ve drastically reduced our CO2 emissions over the last few months as a result.”

In another green energy development, the college has recently been designated as a Green Power Partner by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  The EPA's Green Power Partnership works with more than 1,100 partner organizations to voluntarily purchase green power to reduce the environmental impacts of conventional electricity use. Green power is generated from renewable resources such as solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, biomass, and low-impact hydro. EPA co-sponsors the Green Power Leadership Awards in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Center for Resource Solutions.

Amherst College was singled out for its willingness to purchase Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to offset the carbon from approximately 3 percent of its electrical load.

“The money we put into the system will help fund renewable energy projects that will offset the carbon that would have been produced by traditional means,” Brassord said.

It’s important to note that we didn’t take 3 percent of our utility budget to do this. Instead, three percent of our total power buy went into this voluntary program.”

The Green Power Partnership is a voluntary program that encourages organizations to buy green power as a way to reduce the environmental impacts associated with purchased electricity use. The Partnership currently has hundreds of Partner organizations voluntarily purchasing billions of kilowatt-hours of green power annually. Partners include a wide variety of leading organizations such as Fortune 500 companies, small and medium sized businesses, local, state, and federal governments, and colleges and universities.

Looking forward, Brassord said he hopes to continue using TransCanada or another comparatively greener utility company in the future to provide electricity to Amherst College.

“We’ll do all we can to continue this partnership because it’s proven to be cost effective and it’s reduced our environmental footprint,” Brassord said.