The Sustainable Campus (Trends and Innovations)
A Solar Partnership
Williams College in Williamstown, MA,
is committed to protecting and enhancing the natural
and built environment in which its students, faculty
and staff learn, work and live. These efforts rely on the involvement
of all members of the campus community. The centerpiece of the
college’s sustainability efforts, the Class of 1966 Environmental
Center — open 24/7 to students, faculty and staff — is undergoing
certification to become a Living Building; basically, greener than
green. Other initiatives in practice on the 450-acre rural campus
include waste disposal and recycling programs; building and transportation
policies; food and water procurement, production and
usage efforts and guidelines; and emissions and energy improvements…including solar energy.
In 2004, Williams installed its first solar array on top of Morley
Science Center. Since then, the college has installed a number of
other arrays — both ground-mounted and roof-mounted arrays at
the Library Shelving Facility, at the Weston Field Athletic Complex,
on top of Sawyer Library and on and around the Class of 1966 Environmental
Center. All these arrays are connected to the power grid.
As William’s commitment to sustainability strengthens and
flourishes, campus-led projects are branching out to include the
surrounding community as well.
As one example, Williams College and the Town of Williamstown
have signed an agreement that moves forward a previously stalled
solar energy project that will provide low-cost, renewable energy to
town facilities, the fire district and the regional school district.
The project aligns with the college’s climate change response
plan goals to support local and regional renewable energy projects.
Establishing a Partnership
Under the terms of the new agreement, Williams will
invest approximately $6 million to complete construction of a
1.9-megawatt solar array on a capped town landfill. The Town
of Williamstown began the project in 2014 with a commercial
developer but after initial designs and studies were completed,
the need for major infrastructure upgrades rendered the project
economically unfeasible for the developer. After speaking with
Williamstown Town Manager Jason Hoch, the college began
exploring ways to assist the town. As a result of Williams’ lower
return requirements and commitment to local renewable energy,
the college was in a position to get the project back on track.
“We had reached a point where the installation as originally
planned was no longer financially viable and faced the difficult prospect
of abandoning the project altogether,” Hoch says. “Williams’
interest came at precisely the right time to allow us to proceed with
this important solar facility that will benefit all of Williamstown.”
According to Hoch, the solar array will be ready to operate by
January 2017 under the timeline set by the Massachusetts Legislature
for the next round of Solar Renewable Energy Certifications.
He adds that since the project is not new it already has the necessary
Williams will provide the initial $6 million investment to construct
the project. The $6 million comes from the college’s endowment.
It’s part of the plan announced in 2015 by Williams College
President Adam Falk after students, alumni and staff urged the
school to completely divest its $2.3 billion endowment from the
top 200 fossil fuel companies. The college is seeking a tax equity
partner that would co-own the solar array and provide $2 million
toward the project during the final stages of construction.
Williamstown will use energy from the array to power all of its
municipal buildings and the fire district building and streetlights,
as well as facilities of the regional school district. The discounted
clean power will provide both savings and price stability to the
town’s energy budget by locking in a long-term price for electricity
at less than half the price the town currently pays. The town
will also receive no fewer than 20 years of structured property tax
revenue from the landfill, a property that otherwise generates no
tax revenue for the community.
“We’re delighted to partner with Williamstown in restarting
this solar project,” says President Falk. “As the college moves
forward with a wide-ranging set of initiatives to help address the
global climate change crisis, we’re pleased to be able to invest in
renewable energy right in our own community.”
EOS Ventures of Hancock, MA, has been selected by the college
to serve as development consultants for the project. With
substantial experience in developing and financing renewable
energy projects throughout the region, EOS will undertake full
oversight of all development and construction activities associated
with the project.
The landfill solar project now qualifies for various state incentives
thanks to recent changes in Massachusetts law that have
expanded net metering and encourage the development of renewable
energy projects serving towns and other municipal entities
This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.