Green Ideas

One college breaks ground on a massive geothermal system, another boasts a new park in an unexpected location and a third has a new green bus (literally) on the road.
February 2, 2011

"Green Ideas," an occasional Inside Higher Ed feature, spotlights different strategies, large and small, that colleges are adopting in attempts to reduce their environmental impact.

Bike to the Big Game

Boise State University is perhaps best known in the college sports world for its football stadium’s blue turf. But a growing number of Broncos fans have a green streak in them.

This past fall, Boise State introduced valet bike parking at its home football games. For an optional donation, fans give their wheels to student volunteers who park and store them in a secure location during the game. Hours later, fans simply present their tickets to an attendant and their bikes are retrieved for them. Then, fans can hop directly on the Boise River Greenbelt, a popular 23-mile biking and walking path in town, avoiding all the post-game traffic jams on the roadways.

Casey Jones, director of transportation, said the valet service was a hit with the local cycling community. He noted that more than 700 bicycles were parked during the four home games at which the service was offered and that the project generated more than $500 in donations. This was more than enough to recoup the $300 cost for the bike racks, similar to those used during triathlons, and generate more funds for future infrastructure growth.

“We’re always seeking more sustainable ways to provide access to our campus,” said Jones, noting that he brought the idea of the game-day bike valet service from his former institution, the University of Colorado. “And the more we can accommodate trips to campus that do not come via single-occupancy vehicles, the better.”

Jones added that the service is a “no-brainer” for other campuses to adopt. In fact, many around the country already have, including Stanford University and Oregon State University.

Photo: Boise State University

Valet bike parking lot during first home game, August 2010.

Soaking Up the Sun

Atlantic Cape Community College has found a way to cut its energy costs nearly in half.

In March, Pepco Energy Services Inc. is slated to begin construction of a 2.3 megawatt solar photovoltaic project, including the installation of carports with solar panels in four parking lots, on the college’s Mays Landing and Cape May County campuses. The system will generate up to 48 percent of the college’s total annual electric consumption. That’s enough electricity per year to power approximately 220 homes.

The installation is supposed to be finished in September. In its first year of operation alone, the college expects to save $220,000. (It currently spends about $500,000 annually on electricity.) And over the 20-year life of the contract with Pepco, the college anticipates saving up to $6.8 million.

Peter Mora, college president, said his institution is simply the beneficiary of “good public policy.” He explained that, in recent years, New Jersey has promoted public-private partnerships to create renewable energy sources.

“We provide the land and lease it to the company in question, in this case Pepco,” Mora said. “They provide the funding to install and operate the solar panels, and they channel the energy. Some of it comes back to us, but most of it goes back to them. Then, the state gives them access to energy credits which are bought and sold in the equities market.”

The project will cost Pepco about $10 million, which it expects to make back in state subsidy and energy credit sales. The college, Mora added, only had to spend about $30,000 on legal and other expenses up front to settle the deal with Pepco and the state. The only other major obligation for the college is that it cannot build on the parking lots with solar panels for the length of the 20-year contract.

“We were in the right place at the right time,” said Mora, complimenting local government officials who helped champion the project for the college. “This is not something we could have done on our own. It would have been only a marginal investment without the public policy in place.”

The solar panels in the college’s parking lots will also serve as something of a lab environment for students in its new solar installation program. Mora noted that students will have access to the monitoring tools used by Pepco to maintain the system — and to Pepco employees themselves — to see how solar energy is generated on their campus.

Photo: Atlantic Cape Communtiy College

Rendering of car ports with solar panels.

Blowing in the Wind

Des Moines Area Community College’s wind turbine technician program started two years ago. But its students didn’t have a lab to train in until last month, when a 110-foot-tall wind turbine began operation on the college’s Ankeny campus. (The turbine can be seen churning away in real time via this webcam.)

Todd Jones, college spokesman, noted that the turbine cost the college $250,000. Half of the project’s cost was covered by an Iowa Office of Energy Independence grant, which is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

And this wind turbine is actually “greener” than it may appear, according to Jones: it’s been recycled. For about the past 30 years, it generated electricity on a wind farm near Tehachapi, Calif. Last year, the turbine was disassembled and shipped to the Midwest. Buying a remanufactured turbine saved the college money, Jones added.

“This is more of a training tool than something that will significantly reduce our energy costs,” Jones explained. “Our wind turbine technician students will do maintenance on it, climb it and see it in action. Working on it will be part of classroom activities.”

Still, there are some energy savings involved. Jones noted that the college spends about $800,000 on gas and electricity every year. The turbine is expected to generate nearly 200,000 kilowatt hours of power each year and is projected to save the college about $8,000 on energy costs.

Photo: Des Moines Area Community College

On-campus wind turbine under construction.

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