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Dartmouth Plans to Cut Oil Reliance

  • Prospective Dartmouth College students are given a campus tour in Hanover, N.H., on October 7, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, April 23, 2017

Hanover — A series of proposals issued by a Dartmouth College task force Saturday aim to make the school, home of the Big Green, even greener.

The recommendations, which proponents say would put the school on par with its peers, include slashing carbon emissions on campus over the next three decades.

The 21-page “road map” was created by the Sustainability Task Force, which includes students, faculty members and administrators. It calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2025, and 80 percent by 2050.

The report says energy is the largest contributor to Dartmouth’s greenhouse gas emissions, noting that the college’s use of No. 6 fuel oil, “a relatively dirty fuel,” drives greenhouse gas emissions per student that are among the highest in its peer group, which includes Stanford University, Middlebury College, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The report also calls for improving the efficiency of Dartmouth’s energy distribution system by 20 percent.

College President Phil Hanlon, who appointed the task force last year, said he “enthusiastically endorses” those recommendations.

In a letter to faculty, students and staff, Hanlon said the college will move from No. 6 fuel oil to renewables by 2025, and establish a more efficient system for distributing energy across campus.

The two infrastructure changes represent “a challenging proposition” that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, financial realities that necessitate a careful, creative and “phased” approach, Hanlon said.

The college expects to finalize a plan, which it will share with the community, and begin putting it into effect over the next several months.

To improve the efficiency of its energy distribution system, the college will move from a steam distribution system and steam-heated buildings to hot water heating and distribution systems, Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence confirmed in an email.

As green energy proponents have been hoping, the college, which currently uses 3.5 million gallons of fuel oil annually, is not planning to convert to natural gas.

“Our most recent studies have focused on renewable resources such as biomass, biodiesel and solar energy,” Lawrence said.

In this sense, discontinuing the use of oil will bring the college full circle: Industrialist George Bissell, a Hanover native and 1845 Dartmouth graduate, is often considered the father of the American oil industry.

The task force report, available on Dartmouth’s website, was released to coincide with Earth Day, which is celebrated on April 22. It includes the goal of obtaining 100 percent of Dartmouth’s energy supply from renewables by 2050, and the “aspiration” that, starting in 2051, the college’s energy system would be carbon negative.

Andrew Friedland, a professor of environmental studies who co-chairs the Dartmouth College Sustainability Task Force, called the report “a living document, one that recognizes there will improvements in technology and innovation, and that costs of certain things might come down or go up,” which could change the situation.

“We tried not to be (prescriptive) right down to every last detail,” he said.

Friedland, who joined the college as an assistant professor in 1987, said he’s encouraged about recent movement toward sustainability on campus. From recent reductions in energy usage to the task force and its report to the new Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society, “it feels like there’s a lot of positive momentum and energy.”

The report acknowledges Dartmouth’s “significant advances” in recent years — thanks to investments in its energy infrastructure, annual absolute emissions declined about 10 percent since 2011, even as it added 300,000 square feet of new space. Its current annual consumption of fuel oil is down 1 million gallons from 2010.

Yet it also highlights the gap between its progress and that of Middlebury, Harvard, Stanford and MIT.

“We lag our peer institutions with respect to commitments, actions and reporting in the sustainability domain,” said the report, which includes a chart comparing the five schools.

The report also looks at how the college can reduce its impact in other areas, such as waste, water, food and transportation, and use its curriculum and research to help drive the transition to a “low-carbon future” on campus and beyond. It recommends exploring how various investment opportunities could help Dartmouth promote sustainability, and whether divestment from fossil fuel companies should play a role.

A member of a student group that has lobbied the college to divest from companies that extract fossil fuels weighed in on the report yesterday.

“We generally are all on the same page,” said Francesca “Ches” Gundrum, ’17, noting that a few members of Divest Dartmouth served on the task force. “It is just as important to focus on making sure our campus is more sustainable and lessen our greenhouse gas emissions.”

That the report even contains the word divestment is “a big win for us,” yet she wished it had received more than a mere mention, Gundrum said. “Of all days, Earth Day, I just want to scream this.”

The report comes as Upper Valley towns and the state of New Hampshire prepare to make key decisions on how to meet energy needs in the future.

Liberty Utilities is in the process of seeking approval from New Hampshire’s Public Utilities Commission to build a natural gas facility in Lebanon. The fuel would be distributed to customers via an 11.5-mile pipeline into downtown Hanover. Similar proposals by the company and Valley Green Natural Gas were suspended last year over questions about the projects’ financial feasibility, including the companies’ failure to secure anchor customers. Liberty Utilities had previously said the pipeline could serve major local employers, such as Dartmouth College.

“Obviously that’s the choice they’ve made,” said John Shore, a spokesman for Liberty Utilities, regarding the college’s decision to move directly to renewable energy sources, bypassing natural gas. “We feel there is still plenty of demand in the area to be able to support a natural gas system.”

On May 9, Hanover residents will decide whether the town should commit to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Currently, 22 percent of Hanover’s energy use, which includes Dartmouth College’s energy consumption, comes from renewable sources.

Julia Griffin, Hanover’s town manager, said the community is excited by Dartmouth’s announcement, which “definitely aligns with our hope” that voters will embrace the renewables proposal next month.

“We’re going to be very busy with the college over the near term, particularly around all aspects of building renovations on campus,” as it moves to convert its heating system from steam to hot water, Griffin said. “Obviously we’ll provide Dartmouth with as much public works and planning and zoning department support as we can.”

Rosi Kerr, Dartmouth’s director of sustainability and task force co-chair, said she’s excited to see a serious commitment from senior officials to move the college toward a position of leadership in sustainability, and align the college’s operations with its teaching and research mission, “with the kind of focus on the future that the students bring to the table.”

“Our students are really fired up about sustainability,” Kerr said. “To them, this is a no-brainer.”

Helping move Dartmouth toward its sustainability goals will give students hands-on experience solving complex, multidisciplinary problems, “work that can’t be done by robots,” she said. Those are “the kind of things they will be asked to do in the world.”

It’s not going to be easy, “but it can be done and it should be done,” Kerr said. Reducing the college’s environmental impact represents “a serious commitment to (students) and their future.”

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.