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New Dartmouth Task Force Will Help School Go Green

  • Workers replace a section of roof on Dartmouth College’s heating plant on April 11, 2007. The original structure was built in 1898 and supplies the campus with heat and electricity. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hanover — A new Dartmouth College task force this year will draft recommendations to help the school continue its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint.

Over the coming year, a group of faculty, administrators and students will investigate the numerous resources consumed by the college — heating, electricity, water and food, among others — and, in the spring, present President Phil Hanlon with suggestions to make the school more sustainable.

“We’re optimistic we can come up with recommendations ... that will reflect well on Dartmouth and, hopefully, be a model for other institutions,” said Andrew Friedland, a professor of environmental studies who co-chairs the Dartmouth College Sustainability Task Force.

Even while expanding its overall building square footage, Dartmouth over the past decade has decreased its campus “energy intensity” — the amount of energy used per square foot per year — by about 24 percent, according to administrators. The change largely has come through increased energy efficiency in new building projects, they say, such as the use of structural envelopes that better conserve heat.

To make further strides, the task force will consider, among other things, how best to move beyond the college’s current primary heat source: No. 6 fuel oil, a fossil fuel considered so carbon-heavy that New York City has begun to phase it out entirely.

Dartmouth used about 3.7 million gallons of fuel oil in fiscal year 2015, as well as roughly 65,000 megawatt-hours of electricity from the grid, according to statistics compiled by administrators.

A wide range of replacement options — including solar, wind and biomass — is on the table, Friedland said, each with its own pros and cons.

Biomass, which typically means the burning of wood chips, appears to be a prime option to replace oil, said Lisa Hogarty, task force co-chairwoman and vice president for campus planning.

“For us, solar for electricity and biomass to create hot water are the two major fuel sources that look very viable,” she said in a Monday interview.

The Upper Valley happens to be a prime location for wood chips, Hogarty said, and the college already has been talking to people engaged in “the highest standard of sustainable forestry.”

Friedland, for his part, said he planned to bring his own research, which includes studying the effect of air pollution on forests, to bear on the environmental consequences of burning wood chips.

The environmental studies professor said each energy source has a downside — solar and wind siting, for example, have been contentious issues in Upper Valley towns — and he and Hogarty floated the idea that biomass someday could be replaced by one or more of these noncombustible sources.

Part of the campus’ energy reform effort will include replacing the college’s current steam heating system, Hogarty said. A more efficient hot water system is the likely successor.

The idea of moving away from fuel oil is not new; in 2014, the college board of trustees commissioned research on how best to replace the energy source, and administrators spoke of liquid natural gas as a possible solution.

At the time, local businessman Jay Campion was seeking to bring natural gas to Hanover, with the hope of pumping it to Dartmouth through a pipeline from Lebanon. He has since become embroiled in a dispute with Liberty Utilities over their competing plans to supply the resource, and the matter still is pending before the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission.

In the meantime, Dartmouth seems ready to move on.

The current hope of the campus facilities staff, Friedland said, “is that we might be able to leapfrog right over natural gas” to a more sustainable resource.

But beyond heat and electricity sourcing, the task force will consider a wide range of campus resources, including its food and water — where they come from, where they’re wasted, and how the college can improve upon its existing systems.

Even though water isn’t traditionally thought of as a scarcity in the New England region — “that’s seen as more of a Western (American) issue,” Friedland said — improvements to the water system could mean savings for the college in years to come.

As for food, he said, “those issues are hard because they start getting into personal choice.”

Switching away from red meat, for example, could have a significant impact on campus sustainability, he said, but at the same time the task force doesn’t want to tell people what to eat. Instead, Friedland said, the idea is to set broader guidelines and “intelligent goals” to work toward.

“Hopefully the president will accept them and follow them,” he said.

Hanlon announced the creation of the task force earlier this year, on Earth Day (which always falls on April 22). An accompanying news release from the college said the group would report back to him on Earth Day 2017.

“We recognize that energy is one of the most pressing issues of our time,” Hanlon said in the release. “Dartmouth is making a difference through the choices we are making about our operations now and into the future.

“As we work on the transformation of our own campus systems to those that are low-carbon and sustainable, we know that the most significant opportunities to impact our global energy future will come from our scholarly research and from the preparation of our graduates to be leaders on this critical issue.”

And as Dartmouth works to make its own campus greener, it has partners in the greater Upper Valley community.

Judith Colla, vice chairwoman of the Upper Valley Sierra Club’s executive committee, said her group has held joint events with college officials in support of its own campaign, a nationwide drive to convert 100 percent of energy use to renewables by 2050.

Colla said Dartmouth “deserves a lot of credit” for the energy-efficient improvements it already has made, especially because the school’s environmental efforts reach beyond its campus.

“I think we can all agree that Dartmouth is an influential institution, not only in Hanover and the Upper Valley but also in New Hampshire, the entire country, and now, of course, internationally,” she said in an email on Tuesday. “... Addressing one of today’s greatest challenges with courageous and bold steps is arguably the most powerful way for Dartmouth to teach its students to lead and be responsible citizens.”

Although the Sustainability Task Force’s final recommendations are due in the spring, Hogarty said, early findings could come as soon as January. Some of the group’s members met this summer, but its first full gathering is scheduled for September.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.