jueves, febrero 22, 2007

Rep. proposes to study colleges' energy efficiency

Many state and community colleges are looking to evaluate their energy situations after a Massachusetts lawmaker proposed to create a commission to regulate energy consumption on the campuses, environmental experts say. The plan of Rep. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer) calls for a nine-member commission jointly appointed by the governor, House and Senate to evaluate various schools' progress in using renewable fuels and new technology. The proposal was inspired by a biomass conversion project at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, which falls in Gobi's district, said aide Stuart Loosemore. For three years, the school's Biomass Heating Plan has relied solely on woodchips from the surrounding area to heat the school. According to the school's website, the new heating system has saved the school about $300,000 per year in fuel costs and cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. Eric Friedman, director of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs's State Sustainability Program, said researching and promoting biomass and renewable energy sources is a priority for the agency. Currently, there are no regulations governing minimum use of renewable energies at state colleges, Friedman said, adding the only two schools with official renewable energy projects are Mount Wachusett and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, which uses a wind turbine to satisfy one-third of the campus's electricity needs.Gobi's initiative is timely, said Tom Kimmerer, executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, because rising energy costs across the nation have prompted many colleges to look into reducing their energy consumption. Kimmerer said Gobi's focus on colleges was appropriate as employers begin to look for graduates with knowledge of sustainable energy. "Colleges are the laboratories of the future," he said. "Universities need to take the lead in energy and materials conservation." The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, though it would not be regulated under Gobi's proposal because it is a private university, is also a member of AASHE."We're an institution with large environmental footprints," said Peter Cooper, MIT's Manager of Sustainable Engineering and Utility Planning.To reduce energy and save money, Cooper said MIT has tried methods similar to the ones the Gobi commission would research -- namely, reducing water usage by 70 percent, tweaking lab equipment to be more efficient and adding solar panels to buildings -- Cooper said. The school has also installed motion sensors on some vending machines, he said, which keep them turned off during night unless somebody walks by."[MIT uses its] campus as a learning laboratory," he said.
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