The University of Pennsylvania last week announced it would become the nation’s largest consumer of wind energy in an effort to become a more environmentally friendly university.
While Penn officials said the decision made Penn a model of an environmentally responsible institution, Yale officials said they are confident that a less publicized decision to replace the central power plant in 1997 made Yale an example for how smart environmental and economic policy can work toward the same goal.
The University decided to buy a “cogeneration plant” in which turbine generators burn gas to produce both electricity and steam. The facility, located near Swing Space, is 90 percent fuel efficient compared to the old facility’s 60 percent efficiency rate.
“It is as efficient as you can get under the current technology in terms of using regular oil,” Deputy Director of Facilities Roberto Meinrath said. “It’s not as emissions-free as wind turbines would be, but wind turbines do not produce the amount of energy we need without having a whole farm.”
After the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 in which nations made preliminary agreements to cut greenhouse gas emissions, pressure on universities to adopt environmentally friendly policies increased. Although the United States did not end up ratifying the treaty, the Kyoto Protocol’s proposed 7 percent reductions in the national carbon dioxide emissions became a benchmark for environmentally conscious institutions to meet.
With the installation of the new power plant, Yale decreased its carbon dioxide emissions by 13 percent from their level in 1990, Meinrath said. In 1990, Yale produced 144,000 tons of carbon dioxide gas and now only produces125,000 tons.
Many believe carbon dioxide is one of the primary factors responsible for global warming.
David Corson-Knowles ’03, who is a member of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition, said although the numbers sounded positive, the University could still do more to reduce emissions. He said Yale could build more environmentally friendly buildings, like the one currently being designed for the forestry school, and added that students could also take steps to help.
“The Yale Student Environmental Coalition has been developing proposals to further reduce energy consumption on campus, including a campaign to turn off computers when they’re not being used — which accounts for about 5 percent of all energy consumption in the United States,” Corson-Knowles said.
The cogeneration plant cost close to $100 million. Early in the 1990s the University decided that it would have to find alternatives for the aging boilers in its old central power facility. According to “Yale University Power Plants — A Convergence of Challenges and Opportunities,” a University document, the facility had become expensive to operate, had its resources stretched by an expanding campus, and did not follow new environmental guidelines set by the Clean Air Act of 1990.
Although the initial cost of the plant was high, the plant’s increased efficiency allowed the University to save money in the long term.
Yale’s cogeneration plant supplies energy to all of Central Campus and Science Hill while Penn’s wind energy purchase will only supply 5 percent of the campus’ demand for energy, according to a Penn press release.
Penn junior Emily Quesada, who is the co-chairwoman of the Penn Environmental Group and lobbied for the purchase of wind energy, said Penn’s new purchase would only take the university halfway to meeting the Kyoto Protocol. She added, however, that she hoped the purchase would inspire more interest in wind power.
“It’s a huge investment with the wind industry,” she said. “It allows them to put more money into research and development so that they can make [wind energy] more cost-efficient in the future.”
Quesada is a member of a national coalition of students called Kyoto Now, which has demanded that universities take leadership roles in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Last April, Cornell University pledged to try to reduce its emissions by 7 percent by 2008.
“We’re focusing on our programs here on campus, so by example [other institutions] may follow,” said Henrik Dullea, vice president of Cornell public relations.
While most universities do not have cogeneration facilities, Princeton University did purchase a similar but smaller version of Yale’s plant.
Meinrath did not rule out the possibility of Yale considering unconventional sources of power for the approximately 90 University properties not connected to Central Campus or Science Hill. The local utility, United Illuminating, provides power to these properties, but University officials are closely watching trends in deregulation.
“Then we could explore all kinds of things from importing energy from anywhere,” Meinrath said. “That’s the beauty of deregulation. Once we are there, we can look at energy from anywhere, and we can look at options from totally clean production environments from windmills to potential hydropower.”