Two town hall meetings on Tuesday gave a public look at the College’s energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, investment strategy regarding fossil fuels and green energy, plan for sustainability and the current status of plans to develop a small wind farm. The meeting began with a presentation made by Scott Wilson ’98, Director of Investments for the College, Chris Bair ’97, Environmental & Safety Coordinator for the College, Liz Queathem, Biology and Liza Morse ’15, co-chair of the Student Environmental Committee.

Wilson described how the College selects investments. He said it would be very challenging to divest from fossil fuel companies because those investments are part of larger funds. The College would have to pull out of the entire fund to end an investment in the energy company.

Chris Bair discusses college coal usage during the environment town hall Tuesday in JRC 101. Photograph by Mary Zheng.

While discussion had been circulating about the possibility of divestment from fossil fuel companies, the conversation has slowed due to the current volatility of the economic climate.

“We felt that it would be in some sense hypocritical to change our investment strategy to avoid any taint of fossil fuel while continuing to power the campus by coal,” Queathem said.

 

Queathem’s portion of the presentation documented measures that the College has taken over the past several years to reduce greenhouse emissions and reliance on fossil fuels internally. In October 2011, President Raynard Kington signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which pledges the College to be carbon neutral by a date it is still in the process of determining.

The Sustainability Planning Committee was established shortly thereafter. Queathem and Bair are both members. Over the past two years, the committee has generated a plan of sustainability, consisting of a number of ideas that would align the campus and community itself more intimately with the principles of sustainability, if implemented.

Among the projects presented were sub-metering all buildings to provide immediate and exact feedback of energy usage, construction of net-zero emission buildings and renovation of old buildings to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards. The committee has also proposed the creation of a course in sustainability that would link with prestigious environmental institutions.

Queathem concluded by providing a much-anticipated update on the status of plans to develop a wind farm, the largest project that the committee has proposed thus far. The wind farm would reduce non-renewable energy use by 60 percent and emissions by 40 percent. The total cost of the project is estimated in the millions.

Queathem spoke about whether the wind farm project was modeled after those that have been constructed to meet the energy needs of other college campuses.

“We can benefit from the mistakes made by other institutions. The fact that we have delayed our project a little bit will be beneficial. We don’t want to just mimic other institutions, we want to stand out,” she said.

During the question and answer period of the meeting, Bair noted the difficulties in financially supporting the project.

“[The trustees] have approved moving forward with the project but they have not approved financing,” Bair said. “The issues have been the same for about the past seven years.”

“No doubt that within the year, the final vote will be taken by the board whether or not to finance the project,” Kington said.

Queathem has implored the student body to approach the Sustainability Planning Committee with any ideas regarding changes that they would like to see happen on campus or to the curriculum that would inspire the creation of a more sustainable culture on campus.