College on track to meet climate goals
If we look back on a 10-year time horizon ... (investments in) renewables have clearly outperformed what would have been our fossil fuel holdings.
— Executive Vice President for Finance David Provost
Part 1 of 2
MIDDLEBURY — Two years after announcing its Energy2028 strategy, Middlebury College has already made significant progress toward reaching the plan’s ambitious sustainability goals, according to new information released by the college last month during Earth Week.
When announced in 2019, Energy2028 rested on four “pillars”: transitioning to 100% renewable energy sources, cutting energy consumption by 25%, divesting the college’s endowment of fossil fuel investments, and integrating Energy2028 within the college’s educational mission.
Since then, Middlebury has added a fifth pillar that connects with the other four: developing a framework to provide equity and justice principles to guide how the college goes about achieving its goals.
President Laurie Patton described the new pillar in terms of intergenerational decision making.
“I think we are at our best when we can think about the next generation of decision makers and how they are preparing to take on the challenges of the day, and how the previous generation is helping them prepare to do so, and how we have a moral obligation to imagine the next generation and hold them in our minds and hearts as we continue to make decisions,” Patton said at an April 19 Earth Week virtual panel discussion. “The climate crisis, as we now know, was generations in the making. We failed to exercise good intergenerational responsibility on that. So, too, with our racial reckoning and the crisis around race in the United States and other forms of injustice experienced by so many of us over time. We now are experiencing in 2021 an urgency to these, and we have the challenge of facing them in the time of only one generation.”
During a series of Earth Week events, April 19–23, the college celebrated some of its Energy2028 accomplishments and provided a status update for each pillar.
By the end of 2028, Middlebury will have transitioned to 100% renewable energy sources for its core Vermont campus.
At this time the college is working on two major projects that will contribute significantly to this goal and which the Independent has detailed in past stories.
• An anaerobic digester system at the Goodrich Farm in Salisbury will begin producing renewable natural gas from cow manure and food waste later this year. According to the Energy2028 website, this project, which is a partnership between Goodrich, the college, Vanguard Renewables and Vermont Gas Systems, will bring the campus very close to being able to heat with 100% renewable fuel.
• Construction on a 5-megawatt solar farm on 30 acres of college land off South Street Extension is expected to begin this year. The system will provide about a third of the college’s electrical needs. It will also be planted with pollinator species and will offer curricular and other opportunities for students.
As of Fiscal Year 2019, the college was getting 62% of its energy from renewable resources.
But the issue is more complicated than just the numbers, college officials pointed out.
“Most (energy) options come with trade-offs and caveats that need to be considered and weighed before committing to a path forward,” they wrote on the Energy2028 website. “Weighing the environmental and economic pros and cons is only part of it. What about the social, cultural, ethical, and moral implications that are almost always relevant to generating energy? Those are harder to define and quantify, but no less important.”
REDUCE ENERGY USE BY 25%
By 2028, Middlebury College will reduce energy consumption on its core campus by 25% from its 2018 baseline, by changing campus infrastructure and community behavior.
College buildings are a significant source of energy use at the college, and their energy draw has increased over the past year with the expanded and upgraded heating, ventilation and air-conditioning infrastructure put into place during the pandemic.
But work is being done on several fronts, according to college officials, including:
• Recent renovations to Munroe Hall, including added insulation and new windows, have resulted in a projected 20% net reduction in energy consumption.
• The college’s Sustainability Solutions Lab, along with faculty from the Psychology and Economics departments, have designed a student-led outreach campaign for first-year students to learn about sustainability lifestyle choices.
Three Middlebury students, partnering with a number of college departments, Efficiency Vermont, and three other Vermont colleges, worked for a year to design and implement an outreach program to increase the efficiency of the fume hoods in McCardell Bicentennial Hall’s science labs, which consume a lot of energy.
DIVEST FOSSIL FUELS
Middlebury will divest its endowment of fossil fuel investments by 2034.
This goal is ahead of schedule, according to Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration David Provost. The college originally aimed for 25% reduction by 2024, but as of Dec. 31, 2020, it had already eliminated 44%.
Middlebury students started campaigning for divestment in 2011, but the board of trustees voted down the proposal in 2013.
Had the board listened, however, the college’s endowment would be worth more money today, Provost said.
“If we look back on a 10-year time horizon … the renewables have clearly outperformed what would have been our fossil fuel holdings.”
When Middlebury senior and climate justice leader Leif Taranta arrived at Middlebury in 2016, “divestment seemed like a pretty far-fetched possibility,” Taranta said during the April 21 event. “I remember meetings with board members where they would look at us and say, ‘You all are children. You do not know how economics works. You do not know what divestment really means. It will never happen.’ And that was very discouraging, but we kept on pushing anyway, and in time we got to a moment where those very same board members were standing up in front of entire auditoriums of people and saying, ‘We are proud to back this — divestment is the right option.’ And that was really because of the power of student movements and organizing, and our (faculty, staff and administration) allies.”
“One of the biggest victories of the student divestment movement was that it was a chance to learn how to organize, and it’s really what I’m most grateful for in my experiences at Middlebury,” Taranta said.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected]
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