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Colby-Sawyer installs 50-foot wind turbine to further reduce emissions

Colby-Sawyer College is one of the first institutions to install a wind turbine, which is located in front of the Susan Colgate Cleveland Library and Learning Center. The wind turbine is 50 feet tall and the power it generates will go back into the school's grid.

(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Colby-Sawyer College is one of the first institutions to install a wind turbine, which is located in front of the Susan Colgate Cleveland Library and Learning Center. The wind turbine is 50 feet tall and the power it generates will go back into the school's grid. (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Colby-Sawyer College has added a 50-foot wind turbine on campus, the latest move in a multi-decade effort to eradicate its carbon footprint.

The turbine, which was installed last month in front of the Susan Colgate Cleveland Library and Learning Center, can generate upwards of 450 kilowatt-hours per month, according to school officials. At that rate, it would offset more than 6,000 pounds of pollutants every year, they said.

The turbine cost about $19,000 and was funded through a grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation.

Power produced from the turbine should represent a minimal fraction of the up to 4 million kilowatt-hours that the school uses on average each year, but its purpose is more educational than generative, said Jennifer White, the school’s sustainability coordinator. The turbine is equipped with a computer-based monitoring system, which allows students to gather data on its effectiveness over time and under different weather conditions. Several professors have expressed interest in applying the data to coursework involving statistics, business and environmental science, White said, and another is developing a class on renewable energy systems.

“Knowing that renewable energy is going to be the future of energy in our country, we want to make sure the students know how those systems work,” she said.

Turbines of this scale are rare in New Hampshire, said Jeff Goodman, co-founder of Rye Beach-based Wind Guys USA, which installed the turbine on campus. He said his company, one of the few remaining in the state that market to residential and small-business consumers, has installed about half a dozen so far. But these types of turbines offer a decent return on their investment, he said, and can be a great educational resource.

The turbine took more than a year to plan for and get properly permitted by the town, Goodman said.

This is the first domestic-scale turbine the company has installed in New London, Goodman said. But it’s only the latest in a series of efforts the college has made since 2007 to boost its sustainability. That year, at the request of students, college President Tom Galligan signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, a pact to eliminate pollution and promote education and research relating to climate change.

Three years later, the school adopted a student-driven action plan to eliminate its emissions by 2050, with benchmarks of a 50 percent reduction by 2015 and an additional 20 percent cut by 2020. The plan concentrates on six areas: energy; transportation; water and biodiversity; food; waste and consumption; and culture, curriculum and investment. So far, the school has slimmed emissions by 45 percent, White said.

Since 2010, the school has purchased its electricity entirely through renewable energy credits, which finances sustainable sources that are added to the regional grid as a whole. Over time, the school hopes to purchase more local renewable sources if and when they become available.

The school has also generated some of its own power on site since last year through a 517-solar-panel array. That project, which can produce 152,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity every year, cost $509,000 and was funded through a unique power purchase agreement with a local solar company, in which the company leases roof space on campus for its panels and then sells the energy it generates to the school at a low rate. After six years, the school then has the option to purchase the panels outright.

There have been other initiatives under way as well, including a permaculture garden, reductions in the use of paper and gas, building efficiency improvements and a new LEED-certified research facility. Students have also discussed the addition of a bike share program and are constructing a sustainable classroom using locally sourced materials.

Other future projects are also being discussed, such as converting the school’s heating source from propane to biomass.

White, who was hired in 2009, said the ideas for several projects have come from other schools that have made similar emission commitments, and emphasized that the effort has “really been student driven from the start.”

She added that the wind turbine and solar panel display have become symbols of that drive.

“They’re really visible representations of our commitment to sustainability,” White said.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319,
jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

"The school has also generated some of its own power on site since last year through a 517-solar-panel array. That project, which can produce 152,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity every year, cost $509,000 ..."...Wow...the average home uses what 15k kilowatt hours a year...so, that would equal $50k per home.

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