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Boston University will buy nonpolluting wind power for 15 years beginning in 2020, a major step in the University’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

BU will buy the power from a South Dakota wind farm that will begin construction in the spring. It will then resell that power for use in the midwestern United States. By purchasing power outside New England, the University will earn legal credits (called renewable energy certificates) against its own carbon emissions in Boston. Renewable energy certificates are documents under US law certifying that energy buyers have purchased clean power. 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.

President Robert A. Brown announced the Power Purchase Agreement with ENGIE North America September 18, 2018, at a forum with Boston’s largest building-space owners. Many of the 50 owners, BU among them, have committed to mitigating their contributions to climate change. They met at the Rajen Kilachand Center for Integrated Life Sciences & Engineering at an event BU cohosted with the Boston Green Ribbon Commission and A Better City.

As part of its contract with ENGIE, BU will also receive educational and research opportunities for faculty and students. Those include two ENGIE summer internships for academically high-performing students who want to learn about wind power or energy efficiency or how to put business plans together. ENGIE also will arrange an annual tour of the wind farm for students, faculty, and staff.

Boston University President Robert A. Brown at the podium during a press conference on September 18 announcing the University's Wind Energy Power Purchase Agreement investment in clean energy.

President Robert A. Brown told Boston’s largest building-space owners on September 18, 2018, that BU will make a major investment in clean wind power. Photo by Cydney Scott

Brown called the deal “a major step in the University’s strategy for mitigating our CO2 emissions and our commitment to bring our net emissions to zero by 2040. We are very pleased to have rapidly been able to put this agreement in place.”

The University will buy 205,000 megawatt hours of electricity annually from ENGIE during the contract. This amount is equivalent to displacing greenhouse gas emissions from 33,000 motor vehicles over the course of a year, says BU sustainability director Dennis Carlberg, and the purchase is essential to enabling ENGIE to procure financing for construction of its wind farm.

Buying power outside of its New England backyard gives BU added punch against climate change, Carlberg says. That’s because the power grid in the upper Midwest is far more reliant on environmentally harmful fossil fuels than New England’s. The Power Purchase Agreement will provide essential financing for the South Dakota wind farm, he says, which in turn will boost that region’s store of cleaner energy.

The wind farm also will deliver economic benefits to its region, including annual payments to local landowners who host wind turbines on their property, purchases of local goods and services, and tax payments.

Anthony Janetos, chair of the University’s Climate Action Plan Task Force, says the group recommended buying power outside New England as the strategy to “displace the greatest amount of fossil-fuel-generated CO2 possible.

“In the United States, this generally means that renewable energy projects that displace emissions from an otherwise coal-heavy grid would be favored,” says Janetos, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of earth and environment. “Local projects on the New England grid would displace less CO2 because the New England grid is already pretty green.”

The task force required that BU’s project “be additional to existing renewable energy already being generated,” Carlberg says, “where BU’s financial strength and a 15-year cash flow to the seller would enable the project to get financed and move forward.”

BU’s Wind Power Purchase

It takes a lot of electricity to make Boston University run. How much, exactly? Currently, BU uses 205,000 megawatt hours of electricity per year. That got us thinking — what if we could offset that? Starting in 2020, BU has committed to purchase a matching amount of clean electricity from a wind farm in South Dakota, a major first step in our bold goal of carbon neutrality by 2040.

Posted by Boston University on Tuesday, September 18, 2018


Janetos says ENGIE’s wind farm was chosen after a national search for appropriate projects. That search also focused on ensuring the business feasibility of the project, leading to a deal with ENGIE that “is exceptional in three ways,” says Gary Nicksa, BU senior vice president for operations. “It’s a major step toward achieving our Climate Action Plan goals, it makes economic sense, and it creates a relationship with ENGIE that will benefit student education and faculty research.”

Since 2006, the University has reduced its carbon emissions by about 25 percent through energy efficiency, replacing oil usage with cleaner natural gas, and through the growing greening of the New England electricity grid, Carlberg says. Besides the Power Purchase Agreement, using energy more efficiently will be important to reaching zero emissions. “We’ve got to be very focused on that forever,” he adds. “We need to reduce demand while we find cleaner sources to meet the demand.”

Under the CAP, the University will spend $141 million over 10 years on capital improvements to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

When the Power Purchase Agreement expires in 15 years, BU either will negotiate a new contract or consider alternatives. “We don’t really know what kind of market mechanisms will be in place…for us to get to zero” carbon emissions, Carlberg says. “It could be that the New England grid will be already greener, to 100 percent clean energy. The CAP provides flexibility so we can respond to the market conditions and our reduced demand 15 years from now.”

He says that BU will evaluate its position every five years before deciding on a next step.

“We’re excited to deploy our experience in renewable energy to support Boston University in its visionary sustainability quest,” says Frank Demaille, ENGIE North America’s president and CEO. “We’ve served BU with retail electricity supply and energy efficiency upgrades, including at Agganis Arena. With this project, we look forward to collaborating on an initiative that combines energy, environmental, economic, and educational impact over many years.”