A Strategic Approach to a Sustainable Campus
Compressed Natural Gas powers the campus’s hot water and heat. A geothermal system heats and cools the Hanaway Rink at the PSU Ice Arena and Welcome Center. Biomass fuel keeps the new ALLWell North facility warm and provides hot water. And now solar panels on the roof of Harold E. Hyde Hall are garnering energy from the sun to provide electricity for campus.
Establishing these measures to reduce the campus’s carbon footprint is a visible and important statement about the University’s commitment to sustainability. The new 78 kilowatt-hour array will produce almost one percent of the electricity used by the campus, and the heating system in ALLWell North uses sustainable harvested biomass wood pellets from New Hampshire for fuel.
Despite the importance of these efforts, PSU, like other nonprofits, has struggled to find ways to finance solar, geothermal, and other renewables to reach their sustainability goals. The PSU Energy Committee—the primary campus group charged with studying and recommending energy alternatives—addressed the challenge by creating a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) between Plymouth State University and SunRaiser LLC to establish an electricity-producing solar array on the roof of Hyde Hall.
A PPA is a partnership between a nonprofit and a private investor that allows the private investor to use state and federal grants and tax deductions—which are not available to nonprofits—and pass them along to its nonprofit partner. With this current collaboration, PSU (the nonprofit) has made available rooftop space on Hyde Hall for SunRaiser (the private investor) to install and maintain the solar panels, which SunRaiser owns. SunRaiser sells the power generated back to PSU under a multiple-year contract. The University pays the same rate for electricity purchased from SunRaiser as it does for electricity purchased from its regular providers, with increases each year set by market averages. After six years, the University will have the option to purchase the solar system from the partnership at a significantly reduced price (approximately 55 percent of original cost) because of the rebates captured by the LLC, and the system will continue to produce electricity for many years.
“The public-private partnership embodied in the PPA was essential to the project,” Director of the Office of Environmental Sustainability and Professor of Sociology Brian Eisenhauer says, “as it made it cost effective while also supporting the growing renewable energy sector of the economy in New Hampshire. The solar finance team at SunRaiser also worked with a class on campus and shared with students the lessons they’ve learned working in the sustainability field. These kinds of public and private partnerships are of increasing importance in academics at PSU as we continue to develop ways to engage our students with our campus and communities.”
Although PPA agreements are common in higher education and nonprofits, Plymouth State is the first of the University System of New Hampshire institutions to enter into this kind of public-private partnership. As PSU embarks on a new approach to education that involves strategic collaborations with off-campus businesses, organizations, and agencies that allow transdisciplinary ideas to flourish, partnerships like the one with SunRaiser will become ever more common—and necessary.
Students want a sustainable campus
Laura Getts, a graduate student in environmental science and policy, says her decision to attend PSU was heavily influenced by the University’s commitment to sustainability. In particular, she had a strong desire to become involved with the work conducted by the Office of Environmental Sustainability. “As a student, I believe that I am a direct beneficiary of PSU’s sustainability commitment,” Getts says. “This commitment speaks to the University’s appreciation for sustainability as a social, environmental, and economic issue that is of great concern to today’s students. I foresee all my future career and lifestyle choices reflecting my work in sustainability here at Plymouth.”
Next steps: Continued aggressive action toward climate change goals
In its 2010 Climate Action Plan, PSU pledged to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2025 and to make its operations greenhouse gas neutral by 2050. The solar arrays are just up and running, and the Energy Committee is already moving forward with its next initiatives to reduce the campus’s carbon footprint and address the challenges of climate change. Next up? An exploration into converting the campus cogeneration plant to biomass. –Emilie Coulter with Brian Eisenhauer
Top: Kaleb Hart ’11 photo.
Tags: biomass Brian Eisenhauer carbon footprint Climate Action Plan environment geothermal greenhouse gas photovoltaic power purchase agreement public-private partnership solar array solar cells sustainability transdisciplinary