Sustainability efforts focus on older campus buildings

by Michael Qian | 1/15/14 8:23pm

The Dartmouth College Heating Plant provides electricity for 45 percent of the main campus
Source: Kelsey Kittelsen

From the south side of campus, the Dartmouth College Heating Plant releases wispy plumes of steam into cool air. The plant, which supplies approximately 45 percent of the electricity on Dartmouth’s main campus, is just one part of a large network of heating and sustainability programs.

Currently, the College is working to improve older, less-efficient building designs and increase the efficiency of the top campus energy users, including Alumni Gymnasium, Baker-Berry Library and the Burke Laboratory, which houses the chemistry department, said Ken Packard, engineering and utilities director of Facilities, Operations and Management,

By supplementing efforts to replace outdated technology, these retrocommissioning projects allow the College to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels, Packard said.

“It’s like a tune-up,” he said. “Your car runs okay, you bring it in and it works better.”

Since Facilities, Operations and Management replaced cooling equipment in Burke Chemistry Building the College has begun to save up to 425,000 gallons of oil a year, Packard said.

“We’re definitely on track toward cutting emissions,” Packard said. “The next thing is going to be looking at our production, how we produce energy, potential fuel switching and other tactics.”

In 2008, former College President James Wright announced that Dartmouth would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 percent by 2015, and 30 percent by 2030.

As of 2013, the College has reduced emissions by 22 percent from its 2005 levels. Campus organizations such as the Office of Sustainability collaborate with Facilities, Operations and Management to increase energy efficiency.

Environmental studies professor Andrew Friedland said the College could improve its sustainability record by switching to a cleaner but more expensive type of oil. To heat buildings, the plant converts oil to steam, using the resulting steam power to generate electricity.

Alternately, Dartmouth could use liquefied propane gas or liquefied natural gas, Friedland said. Though these gases release less pollution, they are byproducts of fracking, a controversial technique, he said.

Making long-term investment decisions about energy is difficult, sustainability director Rosi Kerr said, as each supply option offers advantages and disadvantages.

Some form of natural gas will most likely usurp the type of oil currently in use eventually, leading the College towards a more economically and environmentally sustainable track, she said. Although Dartmouth would have to make a large capital investment to switch fuel sources, Kerr said she expects funding approval from the Board of Trustees in coming years.

“It’s a real challenge with these old buildings,” Friedland said. “You can’t retrofit buildings with the old technology. There are no easy fixes.”

Even well-designed, newer buildings like the Life Sciences Center still use a lot of energy, Packard said.

The initiatives will save the College over $1 million per year — funding which then goes toward repaying loans for the projects, Packard said. The College has invested about $14.5 million in energy-related projects to date.

“Fundamentally, the College is here to do education and research, so we want to keep the energy footprint as small as possible,” he said. “But that’s secondary to meeting the needs of the institution.”