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University Announces Massive Wind Power Purchase

15-year buy is a key part of BU’s Climate Action Plan

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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 Tuesday 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 Tuesday 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.”

26 Comments
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

26 Comments on University Announces Massive Wind Power Purchase

  • Lisa Tornatore on 09.18.2018 at 11:33 am

    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.

  • Confused on 09.18.2018 at 12:32 pm

    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.

    • Marta Marello on 09.18.2018 at 3:41 pm

      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.”

      • Nathan Phillips on 09.18.2018 at 11:02 pm

        Extremely well put, Marta!

      • Steve Hammond on 10.06.2018 at 10:04 am

        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.

    • john on 09.30.2018 at 10:33 am

      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.

      http://energybrokernetwork.com/press_ltr.pdf

      Will be happy to debate anytime.

  • Is this logical? on 09.18.2018 at 12:57 pm

    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.

    • Marta Marello on 09.18.2018 at 3:57 pm

      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.

      • Nathan Phillips on 09.18.2018 at 11:03 pm

        Another spot-on response. Thanks, Marta!

      • Far From Spot On on 09.19.2018 at 11:40 am

        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.

        • Marta Marello on 09.20.2018 at 9:41 am

          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).

        • Marta Marello on 09.20.2018 at 10:27 am

          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.

  • Lisa c Linowes on 09.18.2018 at 3:28 pm

    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.

  • Nathan Phillips on 09.18.2018 at 11:00 pm

    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.

  • An immigrant on 09.19.2018 at 8:41 am

    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.
    I

  • Eugene on 09.19.2018 at 9:13 am

    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?

    • Marta Marello on 09.19.2018 at 11:59 am

      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.

  • Claire Richer on 09.19.2018 at 9:22 am

    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.

  • Still confused on 09.19.2018 at 9:54 am

    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.

    • Perry Donham on 09.19.2018 at 11:07 am

      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.

    • You're Spot On on 09.19.2018 at 11:26 am

      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.”

    • Marta Marello on 09.19.2018 at 12:30 pm

      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.

  • Sarah Theurkauf on 09.19.2018 at 10:13 am

    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!

  • Gerald collins on 09.19.2018 at 1:58 pm

    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

  • Proud@BU on 09.19.2018 at 3:26 pm

    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.

  • Student at BU on 09.19.2018 at 3:35 pm

    Great decision by BU to do this!

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