Presidents Climate Committment
The American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (PCC) is a commitment for higher education facilities to set examples for the rest of the country by taking part in a three part process. Part 1: develop and initiate a comprehensive plan to obtain climate neutrality as an institution, part 2: initiate two or more items from a seven item list, and part 3: make institutions action plan, inventory and progress publicly available.
Oberlin was one of the first colleges to sign the commitment and are a part of the leadership circle. So far the school is on track with the commitment. They have completed the administrative portion and have enacted university wide policies committing that all new buildings will be build to be LEED certified. They have an almost complete green house gas inventory that covers everything except the air travel and automotive transportation. This semester they have been working on a survey regarding these two areas and estimate that it will take approximately six months for it all to be completed. Because transportation is the second biggest concern, next to energy use, it may eventually get its own planning process. Additionally they are conducting a study to examine possible climate solutions in the areas of energy efficiency and the possibility of switching from the common Ohio power source of fuel to a lower, or even no carbon fuel. They hope to have finished collecting the data for these studies within six months.
Of the energy that the campus uses 40 percent of it gets offset through purchased carbon offsets, a cost that is just added to their regular energy bill. But in addition to purchasing offsets they are working on producing their own energy.
With the solar panels that have been installed on two of the campus buildings they have the ability to produce 160 kWh of electricity depending on the time of year. The energy that they are able to collect first goes to the needs of the building (the Lewis Center) and then gets sent back to the grid for use elsewhere. The energy produced from the Lewis Center solar panels is actually more than is necessary to run the entire building. They have measured it to be producing at 113 percent, meaning they have enough energy to run the whole building and 13 percent of one identical to it.
Additionally, there is a wind power initiative on the campus. It has been a three year process that began in a physics class as a project that then became a topic of research which lead to the construction of a monitoring tower to determine whether or not it would be beneficial to install a wind turbine on or near campus. For one year after the tower was constructed there was a monitoring project and they now have approximately 16 months worth of data. After analysis it was concluded that building a turbine would only be an ok investment. The recommendation that they came up with was to build one turbine at Oberlin for educational purposes, but instead of building an entire wind farm on campus, look into investing in other places that have more energy generating potential. All of this was outlined in a proposal last fall, but the $15 million price tag that accompanies has been is a little overwhelming and no decisions have been made as of yet.
Another big source of energy use on all college campuses is that of heat. Some campuses have started initiatives to turn down the thermostats throughout campus form 70 to 68, a subtle change that can reap big financial savings. But because of the way that the Oberlin heating system is set up it makes it difficult for them to have a program such as this.
Currently the Oberlin heating system is run through a central heating plant using low pressure steam. Due to the nature of the system there are few places that have room level control, for the most part it is controlled on a floor or office suite level, or is split between two ends of a building wing. For this system to have a significant decrease in the amount of steam that gets pumped through it, there would have to be a large drop in the demand for heat, something that is unlikely in snowy Ohio.
The sustainability coordinator did mention that an issue that they are trying to address is the lack of localized temperature control. It is an expensive problem to address but they are trying some different solutions as they remodel different spaces, specifically residence halls, with varying levels of success.
At Oberlin the unofficial policy about purchasing new vehicles is to purchase a wide range of alternative vehicles. So far their campus security services have a hybrid fleet, dining services have a diesel van run on biodiesel that they use for catering, the grounds crew have E85 capable trucks and tractors that are run on biodiesel in the summer and an electric mail delivery truck. Additionally there is a car sharing program available to students who are 21 or older and a regional transport system that is subsidized by the university. Unfortunately the bus has a very limited schedule so it is mostly used for trips to the airport and back.
Additionally there is a biofuels station in the town of Oberlin that is operated by an Oberlin graduate that is funded through Oberlin’s green energy tags. At the station they offer custom blends and it is the source for all of the school’s biofuel needs.