This Small College Is Creating Big Renewable Energy

BY ON October 24, 2016

Solar Panels in field

As parents, we dream about when the kids are “grown up” and head off to college…

We have expectations of our kids: Will they be ready? Will they know how to make a simple meal, take care of their bodies, be good friends and partners?

We have expectations of the college: It should be inclusive, creative, dynamic, challenging, safe, nurturing.

Here’s one more goal of higher education that should be added to our list: It should be a sustainable institution. If we are going to send our kids and our money to a college, it should be one that is improving the world in every way possible, including using clean energy, having non-toxic buildings, and robust compost and recycling programs. This will certainly be part of my family’s decision-making process.

Hampshire College, in Amherst, Massachusetts, is a small, private liberal arts school of about 1,500 undergraduate students on an 800 acre campus. The college prides itself on its innovative and progressive background, promoting portfolios and experiential education over grades. It’s latest innovations is to create a sustainable college that uses only 100% renewable energy.

Hampshire began construction of 15,000 solar panels, covering 19 acres of the 840 acre campus, to help its mission to produce campus electricity from on-site, renewable energy. This represents the largest on campus solar power system among colleges in New England. The project is the result of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Hampshire committed to a goal of creating a carbon-neutral campus. This commitment supports the university’s mission of innovative research, experiential education, social justice, forward-thinking operations, and environmental action.

Personally, I was excited to see student leadership in these initiatives through its Environmental Committee. This includes staff, faculty and students dedicating to help the college reduce its footprint and become more sustainable.

President Jonathan Lash said about the project, “We’re extremely proud of our commitment to renewable energy, and to educating our students about sustainability. Despite being a modestly resourced institution, in snow country, we’re going all the way with solar for our electricity.”

Not only are they building this ambitious solar project, they recently installed several rooftop arrays that are generating electricity for the college, and recently finished and opened the R.W. Kern Center. This 17,000 square foot living building houses admissions and financial aid offices, as well as classrooms and shared spaces. It was built under the strictest green building standards (Living Building Challenge) and supplies its own energy, harvests and treats its own water, and was built from materials mostly from local sources, avoiding toxic “red list” chemicals. The red list includes asbestos, chlorofluorocarbons, neoprene, formaldehyde, hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), lead, mercury, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and wood treatments containing creosote, arsenic or pentachlorophenol. Imagine the health improvements alone if all buildings were created this way?

Let’s applaud and support Hampshire College’s commitment to sustainability – for its environmental stewardship, and for our children’s health.


TOPICS: Renewable Energy, Schools