New Collaborative Solar Facility Goes Online
An innovative collaborative energy project has started delivering electricity to five New England colleges—and to tens of thousands of students, staff and faculty—as a new solar energy facility has gone online in Farmington, Maine.
Launched in 2018, the New England College Renewable Partnership is a first-of-its-kind collaboration among five leading New England liberal arts institutions: Amherst, Bowdoin, Hampshire, Smith and Williams.
Over the past three years, the colleges have contracted with a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, a leading clean energy company, to construct a utility-scale solar power facility that annually will create enough electricity to power about 17,000 New England homes. Competitive Energy Services acted as an adviser on the project.
Each of the colleges is purchasing zero-carbon electricity from the Farmington facility to reduce carbon emissions from campus electricity use.
The New England College Renewable Partnership is important both for what it does, and for what it represents.
On a practical level:
- The Farmington facility is creating new solar electricity in New England—not an easy accomplishment, given the area’s geography and terrain.
- The partnership helps each school manage costs by “locking in” the price of electricity for the next 20 years.
- The new solar energy generated by the facility will have a significant impact on sustainability, moving each of the five campuses closer to their climate action goals.
- The Farmington project has already had a significant economic impact, as well:
- The project created approximately 500 temporary construction jobs.
- It has generated capital expenditures of approximately $150 million.
- It will generate tax revenue of nearly $17 million over its 30-year lifespan.
At a strategic level, the New England College Renewable Partnership—the first such collaboration among New England schools—is consistent with collaborations occurring in the corporate sphere. The colleges collaborating around the Farmington effort hope that their partnership will inspire other institutions to work together on similar projects, allowing them to take advantage of shared efficiencies and economies of scale.
The Impact at Amherst College
Amherst College’s participation in the NEC Renewable Partnership brings the College one step closer to fulfilling several key actions laid out in its Climate Action Plan, specifically the goal to procure zero-emission renewable electricity to meet all heating, cooling and electrical needs. With the Farmington facility now online, Amherst will purchase 10,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of renewable energy, or about half of the College’s annual electricity use and nearly all of its purchased electricity. (The other half is derived from a combined heat and power plant on campus.) This will reduce Amherst’s CO2 emissions by more than 3,200 metric tons and greenhouse gas emissions by 17.5 percent. The College had already decreased emissions by more than one-third in the past 15 years.
“Deriving such a significant amount of Amherst’s electrical needs from this renewable source represents a major step in the College’s Climate Action Plan,” said James Brassord, chief of campus operations. “This electricity will be used to power the infrastructure that will allow us to decarbonize the campus. That it was achieved through the collaboration of like-minded peers and demonstrates how scale economies can be achieved makes this initiative a model to inspire climate action beyond our campuses.”
“The need to address climate change is urgent and it requires that all of us do our part,” said Amherst President Biddy Martin. “Now that this partnership can produce tangible results, we hope the NEC Partnership will prove to other colleges and universities that working together to address climate change can be beneficial environmentally and financially, and have a multiplying effect. We hope the collaboration will also serve as a model for other institutions who hope to do the same in the future.”
The Impact at Bowdoin College
The NEC Renewable Partnership enables Bowdoin College to deepen its long-standing commitment to renewable energy solutions. As part of the Farmington solar project, Bowdoin will purchase five percent of all energy and the environmental benefits (renewable energy credits) generated by the 76.5 MW project—enough to power roughly 1,000 homes in the Northeast and equivalent to 40% of Bowdoin's current annual electric usage.
“Bowdoin celebrates this important milestone with our partner colleges from Massachusetts,” said Bowdoin College President Clayton Rose. “We're proud to be part of a project that stands as an important example of how collective actions at institutions like ours can make a meaningful difference in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It’s an especially exciting time for Bowdoin, as our involvement in this solar project is part of a larger effort to source 100% of Bowdoin’s electricity purchases from Maine-based renewable energy.”
While the Farmington project launched this effort in 2018, the same year Bowdoin achieved carbon neutrality two years ahead of schedule, the college has since signed agreements with numerous other Maine solar photovoltaic (PV) facilities scheduled to come online between 2021 and 2023, including a second large solar array on college-owned property at Brunswick Landing, the former Naval Air Station in Brunswick. The first, developed in 2014 with Solar City, was at the time the state’s largest solar array and includes rooftop PV systems on Bowdoin's major athletic facilities.
By the end of 2023, all projects contracted by Bowdoin are expected to be online and producing power, covering 100% of current electric usage with Maine-based renewable energy. These efforts are laying the foundation for the college's longer-term goal of electrifying the campus heating load and thus significantly reducing, if not eliminating, the use of fossil fuels on campus.
The Impact at Hampshire College
At Hampshire College the NEC Renewable Partnership expands an ambitious sustainable energy program outside of the boundaries of the campus. The partnership adds to an already aggressive commitment to sustainability and combating climate change. The campus has long hosted solar installations, including at the president’s house, campus farm barn, R.W Kern Center, and the Charles and Polly Longsworth solar canopy, which connects the arts buildings on campus. In 2017, the College completed construction of two solar fields on campus, with a design generation capacity of 4.7 megawatts DC. 15,000 photovoltaic-panels became operational in late 2017, and now offset most of the total electricity consumed by campus."
“This partnership is another important way Hampshire continues to lead around sustainability and combating climate change,” said President Ed Wingenbach. “Our curriculum is organized around the urgent challenges of our time. An animating question for our college is ‘How should we act on our responsibilities in the face of the changing climate?’ By joining this consortium, we are modeling for our students how institutions can live their commitments and take action on their responsibilities in the face of the changing climate.”
Hampshire College divested from fossil fuels in December of 2011 and is pursuing the goal of carbon neutrality by 2022. Concrete actions in pursuit of sustainability include conserving campus land, installing electric vehicle charging stations, utilizing the campus farm to provide organic produce at no cost to the vast majority of students who live in campus apartments, and constructing the R.W. Kern Center, a self-sufficient “living building” that harvests its own energy from the sun, water from the rain, and treats its own waste, and is net positive for the environment.
The Impact at Smith College
The NEC Renewable Partnership significantly advances Smith’s long-term commitment to sustainability while also providing immediate benefits to the college.
“Collaborations like these are rare, but hold great promise for innovation in higher education,” said Smith College President Kathleen McCartney. “This groundbreaking partnership reflects Smith’s strong commitment to leadership and action regarding environmental sustainability, and moves us significantly closer to reaching our goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. Given the devastating effects that climate change is having across the world, I am proud that Smith is collaborating with peer colleges to move us toward solutions.”
Now that the Farmington facility is online, all of Smith’s purchased electricity is coming from New England. (The rest of Smith’s electricity—some 70%—is generated on campus.)
In addition, the project allows Smith to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 10%, bringing Smith significantly closer to its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.
Dano Weisbord, Smith’s associate vice president for campus planning and sustainability, noted that the NEC Partnership also provided valuable educational opportunities for students. Weisbord cited, in particular, a summer research team of Smith, Amherst and Williams students who created an informational website about the Farmington project. “At Smith, the entire campus is a classroom,” Weisbrod said, “and this project has allowed us to create a collaborative classroom that extends all the way to Farmington, Maine.”
The Impact at Williams College
The NEC Renewable Partnership enables Williams College to further its commitment to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions as well as advance toward meeting many of its latest sustainability goals:
- An 80% or greater reduction in the college’s scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2035, compared to 1990-91
- Sourcing 100% of the college’s purchased electricity from renewables
- Maintaining carbon neutrality, while working toward net-zero emissions
- Partnering with local communities on off-campus greenhouse gas emission reduction projects
Williams’ share of solar power generated by the Farmington NEC Renewable Partnership amounts to approximately 90% of the college’s annual purchased electricity needs. The remainder is already “greened” through the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits.
“The Farmington project is not only an essential part of Williams’ commitment to shifting toward renewable energy,” said Williams Provost and Class of 1969 Professor of Economics Dukes Love. “It also demonstrates the power of partnerships in finding collective solutions to one of the major challenges of our times. These are exactly the kinds of approaches that we need at a global scale in order to address climate change.”
“The NEC Renewable Partnership parallels our development of a deep decarbonization plan for the campus,” said Tanja Srebotnjak, director of the college’s Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives. “It’s a terrific complement to our efforts to achieve an approximately 80% reduction by 2035 and to address our scope 3 emissions, notably college-sponsored air travel. By shifting to renewables and building lasting partnerships, the project shows a brighter and more sustainable future for campuses like ours.”
President Maud S. Mandel agrees. “Farmington is a model for cross-institutional collaboration around the urgent problem of climate change. We are more powerful when we work together, and Williams is proud to participate with other leading educational institutions to reach our collective sustainability goals.”