June 25, 2018
Focus: Energy

Maine colleges continue to tackle energy sustainability

In 2007, the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor became the first carbon neutral campus in the U.S. Since then, it's been full speed ahead for Maine colleges as they tackle energy sustainability and lower carbon emissions.

"Colleges are centers of emerging technology and sustainable practices, and institutions such as COA lend themselves to leadership by example," says Andrea Russell, sustainability coordinator at COA.

The efforts of Maine colleges and universities are wide-ranging, from buying carbon offsets to student "unplug" contests.

Recent efforts at Colby College, the nation's fourth to become carbon neutral, in 2013, include a biomass plant, completed in 2012, and a 5,300-panel solar array completed in 2017.

Unity College built the state's first college campus passive house-certified building, a residence hall accommodating 10 students, Terra Haus, in 2011.

Bowdoin College recently announced plans to build four passive house dorms in Brunswick. The school reached its goal of carbon neutrality earlier this year, two years ahead of schedule.

Bates College is on goal to be carbon neutral by 2020, and recently changed its central heating plant from fossil fuels to a renewable tree-based fuel oil.

"Of all the sustainability initiatives here at the college, energy and its resulting greenhouse gas emissions is perhaps the most pressing challenge facing us," the school says on its website.

The University of Maine System achieved a 10-year, 34% reduction in carbon emissions, it announced last year. When the UMaine System announcement was made, officials credited students, faculty, staff and alumni with influencing its decision to implement an environmentally sustainable policy.

As with colleges and universities across the state, pioneer COA sees energy sustainability as an ongoing effort. The school formed the Community Energy Center, which connects students and community members through renewable energy and efficiency projects, including student-performed solar, building efficiency and renewable energy performance analyses. The USDA's Renewable Energy Development Assistance program recently funded the project for another two years.

"Many colleges' initiatives are led by students," Russell says. "At COA, it was the student-led governance committee — Campus Committee for Sustainability — that created the Energy Framework." The framework assesses energy use and has led to the campus reducing its heating load by tightening buildings, implementing fossil fuel-free heating systems and encouraged fossil fuel-free transportation.

The analysis also spurred the college to move its carbon-zero target date from 2050 to 2030.

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