By George Harvey
Five New England colleges have joined forces in a solar power cooperative. Three of them, Amherst, Hampshire, and Smith, are in central Massachusetts. One, Williams, is in far western Massachusetts, and one, Bowdoin, is in Brunswick, Maine.
Together, they are buying power generated at a solar facility in Farmington, Maine. NextEra Energy Resources, one of the largest clean energy companies in the United States, is developing the system. The solar system is expected to be completed sometime in 2019. NextEra is not only building the array, but is taking care of funding and permitting.
The plant is expected to generate about 46,000 megawatt-hours of electric energy each year. This is the equivalent of the annualized energy needs of about 5,000 average New England homes. It will provide substantial portions of the energy needs of all five of the colleges, though the actual percentage varies among them. It will also save each college money.
All five of the colleges were already working on efficiency and renewable energy to reduce their carbon emissions and costs. One of them, however, will be especially recognized by regular readers of Green Energy Times, because of a series of articles in which it was featured.
Stories about efficiency or renewable energy at Hampshire College have appeared at least four times in GET in the past three years. Two of the articles were about buildings at Hampshire College that were examples of energy efficiency. The first of these was “Coming Soon to a College Near You,” in August of 2015, which was about the Hitchcock Center. The second was “This is How You Do It,” which appeared in October of 2015 and displayed the Kern Center.
In August of 2016, “Huge Solar … Just in Time for Schools” told the story of a 4.7-megawatt solar array Hampshire College had under construction on land it owned. The most recent of these articles, “Hampshire College Is Powered by Sunshine,” appeared in February, 2018, saying that the campus buildings were entirely solar-powered.
Anyone reading the last of these articles might be curious why Hampshire College would buy power from a photovoltaic (PV) farm in Maine. One reason was that it still had fifteen off-campus buildings that were not solar powered and it has a goal of to make itself “climate-neutral” by 2020. The college now gets 100% of its electricity from solar PVs. Another part of the reason is that Hampshire College wanted to help the other schools achieve their own renewable energy goals.
Smith College has a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Any emissions it cannot eliminate by that time will be offset by such actions as planting trees. The cooperative will supply about 30% of its electricity and reduce its campus greenhouse gas emissions by 10%.
Also, Amherst College is developing its own climate action plan. Its participation in the cooperative is expected to supply about 50% of its electricity and reduce its emissions by about 17.5%.