• Rich Barlow

    Senior Writer

    Photo: Headshot of Rich Barlow, an older white man with dark grey hair and wearing a grey shirt and grey-blue blazer, smiles and poses in front of a dark grey backdrop.

    Rich Barlow is a senior writer at BU Today and Bostonia magazine. Perhaps the only native of Trenton, N.J., who will volunteer his birthplace without police interrogation, he graduated from Dartmouth College, spent 20 years as a small-town newspaper reporter, and is a former Boston Globe religion columnist, book reviewer, and occasional op-ed contributor. Profile

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There are 30 comments on University Announces Massive Wind Power Purchase

  1. It’s an exciting day for Boston University, thanks to the hard work of many individuals who worked together on the Climate Action Plan and this agreement in particular. Congrats to Dennis, Tony, the CAP Task Force, and many others who devoted their time and efforts.

  2. I’m sorry but I’m missing the logic here. By rationalizing that purchasing clean power outside of BU (in the midwest) will help offset BU’s carbon emissions on the physical property of BU is like my rationalizing that it’s okay if I gain 10 pounds here in New England as long as someone in the midwest loses 10 pounds since it’s a net weight gain of zero. Am I the only one who sees that as the most ridiculous thing? Similarly, it’s like arguing that NYC can obtain energy credits for the polluted Hudson River by cleaning the Colorado River instead. I can’t be the only person who sees this as flawed logic.

    1. That’s actually inaccurate. Using your analogy, it means that if you are at 100 pounds today, starting in 2020, while maintaining the same diet, you will loose weight and be at 47 pounds. This is a 53% reduction, which is the equivalent decrease in carbon emissions that BU will achieve once the wind power plant will start operating. While you lose weight there will be a new person (power plant) located in South Dakota that will enjoy 53 pounds of calorie-free food (or 205,000 megawatt hour with zero carbon emissions): it will get the energy (power), but not the calories (or carbon emissions).
      So while BU will still procure its energy from the New England grid, it creates additional power that is emissions-free for the South Dakota grid. Overall, while more energy will be available emissions from the US grid will have diminished.
      Similarly, the quality of the diet (energy mix) matters. New England’s diet is pretty healthy compared to South Dakota’s, which is rich in coal, oil, and other harmful fossil fuels. By constructing a wind power plant in South Dakota, you are essentially adding much needed veggies to a diet of mostly unhealthy food.
      You can read more about the Purchasing Power Agreement and the metrics used to pick the project and its location on page 15 of the Climate Action Plan report http://www.bu.edu/climateactionplan/files/2017/12/ClimateActionPlan_Report_FINAL.pdf
      The page opens with the following statement: “We are seeking a project that will have the
      greatest impact on emissions reductions. GHG
      emissions reductions will be greater in markets
      where more fossil fuels are used to generate
      electricity. Scientifically, it doesn’t matter
      where reductions come from. Carbon dioxide
      is well mixed globally, so reductions from any
      one place are equivalent to reductions from any
      other place.”

      1. I also say, well put Marta! I also say that anytime and anywhere on this planet we can save a drop of precious fossil fuel, it is saved for future generations. And we gain the benefit of less pollution today. I would like to add that South Dakota is NOT rich in coal, oil, gas or any other fossil fuels. That would be North Dakota and Wyoming. We are however, rich in hydroelectric dams on the Missouri River and rich in wind. I know because I am from South Dakota and am a solar and renewable expert. My home is over 200% solar.

    2. As a FORMER wind energy consultant I am apalled at the fraud and criminality that has and continues in the unreliable and intermittent renewable sector.

      The REC issue is a feel good item that enriches a few at the cost of everyone else, and creates hardships on those who have these flaming and failing behemoths built where they are not wanted.


      Will be happy to debate anytime.

  3. Isn’t this analogous to my paying someone else’s gym membership in the midwest to ‘offset’ my not having to go to the gym in the northeast? If there were no other buyer to invest in that wind power, I could see the net benefit; otherwise, I see no logic in being able to invisibly offset carbon emissions in Place A by purchasing clean energy in Place B.

    1. This is also inaccurate. First, BU will ‘go to the gym’ because the CAP mandates a 31% reduction of carbon emissions through ON CAMPUS energy efficiency projects. Secondly, BU is paying to establish a new gym in South Dakota that will have no membership fees (no emissions).
      BU is not simply buying renewable energy: the energy you are talking about does not exist today. It is thanks to the University’s commitment that NEW and ADDITIONAL renewable energy will be PRODUCED starting in 2020 and there will be no emissions associated with it because it will come from wind, which is a renewable energy source.

      1. We all understand how the project will work but some of us have a problem with making it sound as if that project, located outside of BU (unless we’re merging with Northwestern now), somehow contributes as a CAP action that will reduce carbon emissions on the actual BU campus (which is primarily located in Boston). The fact that the air all gets mixed together up above doesn’t support the claim.

        1. Again, refer to the Purchasing Power Agreement and the metrics used to pick the project and its location on page 15 of the Climate Action Plan report http://www.bu.edu/climateactionplan/files/2017/12/ClimateActionPlan_Report_FINAL.pdf
          The page opens with the following statement: “We are seeking a project that will have the
          greatest impact on emissions reductions. GHG
          emissions reductions will be greater in markets
          where more fossil fuels are used to generate
          electricity. Scientifically, it doesn’t matter
          where reductions come from. Carbon dioxide
          is well mixed globally, so reductions from any
          one place are equivalent to reductions from any
          other place.”

          Moreover, 33% of emissions reduction by 2040 will be reduced on campus through energy efficiency projects. This will benefit local air quality and local jobs (several staff positions have been added in the past year and more will come to accomplish this).

        2. I see your point. But it is not an option for BU to generate the power it consumes -in other words, dropping out of the grid altogether: there is no space on campus or near it. If BU had built a wind plant in New England, say in Maine, you could have made the same argument: it’s not on BU campus. Once you realize that, from that perspective, there is not much difference between a place in New England that is not Boston and elsewhere in the US. By choosing to locate the project in South Dakota, BU is displacing 2-3 times more carbon emissions than what it would have done in New England. This is because the New England grid (ISONE) on average is 3-4X greener than the grid in South Dakota (SPP). In fact, it will be very interesting to quantify the difference once the wind plant is up and running and we will have real-time data.

          I hope this helps.

  4. By acquiring the energy, retiring the renewable energy credit (REC) and selling the energy back to the midwest, in fact, BU has stripped the midwest of the environmental benefit and kept it for itself. To claim BU is green AND the midwest is green is a pure double count! Shame on BU for perpetuating greenwashing. Further to the point, the real reason BU is buying from a yet unbuilt wind plant in SD is because its much cheaper to than buying New England wind power.

  5. I am so proud to be a member of the BU Community today. Thank you to everyone who worked hard to make history today, particularly to the tireless efforts of Dennis Carlberg, for which this was both a labor of love and a clear-eyed & razor sharp negotiation to make sure the terms were true to BU’s standards for climate action and fiscal responsibility. Also, to the students of DivestBU, the five-year long sustained efforts of which led to the instigation of the BU Climate Action Plan that has resulted in this historic university energy transition.

  6. I am one hundred percent in favor of reducing our air and water pollution as much as possible. But! A good portion of the giant windmills that I see on the roads are absolutely motionless (not spinning) even when it’s windy outside. I wonder how much raw materials were wasted on building these behemoths that just sit there.

    Also, I know that if we were to implement on wind farms (that actually work) on a massive scale, that would dramatically change the wind patterns and thus affect climate in ways that no-one can predict.

  7. This is a great step forward for BU!

    The photo at the beginning of the video shows many of the rooftops of BU with no solar. Where is BU on rooftop solar for its buildings?

    1. The Climate Action Plan recommends the installation of on campus renewable energy, specifically solar PV systems, on 16 buildings. A helioscopic analysis conducted in 2015 took in consideration about 80 buildings but only 16 can support PV systems for a number of reasons (more details on page 14 of the CAP Energy chapter http://www.bu.edu/climateactionplan/files/2017/12/Energy-draft-17-11-25-Final.pdf). Note that the aggregate energy produced by the 16 PV systems is only enough to cover 1% of the University’s electricity use.

  8. This makes me so proud to be an alumna of Boston University. This commitment is historic and so needed during a time that the United States has federally pulled away from climate action. This is one more example of how universities, businesses, state and local governments are filling the vacuum and leading the charge on climate action. BU has made a real, tangible commitment that is helping make the US electricity grid cleaner and greener. Thank you to all the leadership shown by BU Sustainability Director Dennis Carlberg and all his staff and interns, Gary Nicksa and the entire BU Department of Operations, Anthony Janetos and everyone on the Climate Action Plan (CAP) Task Force, everyone who helped create and inspire the CAP, including DivestBU and the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, and finally President Brown for his continued leadership. I eagerly await to see what other, exciting steps BU will take as a leader in sustainability.

  9. I could be wrong but it sounds like this plan has nothing to do with energy use and carbon emissions here on BU campus: it’s about investing in a wind farm in South Dakota so that BU can get credits (and reduce overall emissions). I’m all for reducing carbon emissions, but I wonder how much this will cost.

    1. That was my take, too. It sounds like BU is investing in carbon credits, which will be sold to help fund emissions reductions on our campus. I can’t recall, do the credits have a blackout window to prevent trading for a period of time (a few years at least) to cover the emissions generated by building the wind farm?

      Any small step is good, but I think that the press around this is misleading as it implies that BU is directly using locally generated green power when that isn’t at all the case.

    2. Exactly. The article repeatedly interconnects the purchase agreement in the Midwest with BU’s Boston-based emissions reductions and reduction goals. For example, this reference to renewable energy certificates contributing toward ‘BU CAMPUS’ carbon emissions is baffling:

      “Such credits, along with increasing energy efficiency, renewable sources, and the ongoing greening of the New England power grid, are key strategies in the CAP, which aims to reduce carbon emissions to zero on BU’s campuses and global operations by 2040.”

    3. It’s understandable, there are many pieces to the BU CAP (energy, transportation, resiliency, supply chain and waste) and the PPA is just one of them. I suggest you read the executive summary for the BU CAP here http://www.bu.edu/climateactionplan/files/2017/12/ClimateActionPlan_Report_FINAL.pdf
      In a nutshell, with regard to energy the BU CAP aims at achieving carbon neutrality by 2040 by: 1- implementing energy efficiency projects on existing buildings on campus (this will represent a 31% emission reduction and a 33% reduction in energy consumption between the CRC and BUMC) 2- entering a 15-year PPA, which will add renewable energy and decrease our emissions by 53%; moreover it is expected to be cash flow positive over the 15-year period 3- Design updated guidelines for the construction of new buildings with more stringent energy and resiliency requirements 4- Electrify selected fuel systems. All this, and more, by 2040. Yesterday, with the PPA, the University was able to cross off a big item out of that list, which is the single, most impactful action that reduces BU’s emissions.

  10. This is extremely exciting! Prioritizing projects that have the largest environmental impact not only improves the sustainability of the campus but acknowledges the global responsibility of combatting climate change. Can’t wait to see what research comes out of this move!

  11. I am neutral about this but what I really like is the education part including internships for BUstudents. BU should join up with local alternatives to provide education opportunities Although the word visionary is is used too often it does apply to President Brown

  12. There is a difference between decreasing emissions by decreasing overall consumption and decreasing emissions without necessarily decreasing consumption. The former can be realized through energy efficiency upgrades (say putting in more efficient coal power plants that will use less coal per kW of electricity produced, for example) and the latter can be realized through switching all, or part of, the fuel source that is generating the electricity (say switching out 0-100% of the coal power plant for a mix of solar, wind, and geothermal produced electricity, for example). Although the article at times lumps together the various initiatives under CAP, this is clearly an example of the latter being BU is reducing emissions without necessarily reducing consumption (although as part of the larger CAP they are also reducing consumption).

    Yet therein lies the concern – the emissions reduction is being realized by a wind farm power plant being built in South Dakota and not here in New England. But in the world of carbon emissions that does not matter given carbon is not fungible; I cannot differentiate between South Dakota’s emissions and Massachusetts’s emissions. The conundrum of wanting to reduce emissions while not being able to practically reduce emissions on-site has plagued climate change initiatives over the years, but the advent of PPA’s and the concept of “additionality” have helped to bridge that gap.

    Once again, proud to be a BU student and thank you to all in the BU clean energy department for helping achieve this remarkable milestone.

    1. Benefits.

      1. The use of wind energy has a thousand-year history. Wind power was used in ancient Rome for the delivery of water and grinding grain.

      2. Wind energy is renewable energy, which means that the Earth produces wind continuously, free of charge and without damage to the environment.

      3. Wind energy can be quite cheap if it is used on a large scale and at the initial stage with the support of the state. According to some estimates, the price of a kilowatt-hour may be lower than 4-6 cents.

      4. Wind energy replaces the energy produced by thermal power plants, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

      5. Wind energy is available almost anywhere on the planet. Somewhere the wind is weaker, somewhere stronger, but it is almost everywhere.

      6. Wind turbines do not produce harmful emissions during operation.

      7. Wind turbines are located on the masts, and take up very little space, which allows them to be placed together with other buildings and objects.

      8. Wind energy will be especially demanded in remote places where delivery of electricity by other usual methods is difficult.

      9. Production and operation of wind turbines are new jobs.

      10. Like other alternative energy sources, wind power plants reduce the dependence of companies and individuals on the monopoly of oil and gas campaigns, i.e. create competition that end users must win. – https://pro-papers.com/biology-writing-service/

  13. How beneficial wind energy is is not important. Moreover, building wind turbines is not a act for university to do.
    The windmills are not even close to the campus. They are just spending students’ tuition for buying something that is not beneficial for students at all.
    Yes, it is a good thing to keep environment and reduce carbon dioxide. But it is not a thing that I paid my 40,000 dollars of tuition for.

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