Small College Makes Big Leap Into Wind Power

A product of the 1970s, the building that houses Mount Wachusett Community College in Central Massachusetts was born during a national energy crisis. At that time, the desire to break from a dependence on foreign oil led the school to build an all-electric campus.

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Decades later, energy once again became the focus of discussion at the Central Massachusetts campus, only this time it was the cost as much as the source. With electricity bills approaching $800,000 annually, school officials decided to reinvent the institution as one focused on renewable energy.

First came the biomass heating system. Then, a 100-kilowatt solar array was installed on the roof. The big change, though, came earlier this spring when the school welcomed two Vestas wind turbines, which will power 97 percent of the school.

The decision to turn to wind power was an easy one, according to Bob Labonte, Vice President of Finance and Administration. “If you come up the school in the wintertime, the first comment everyone says is, ‘Wow, you should put some windmills up there,’” he said about the school’s natural positioning in a wind corridor.

So, up they went. The two Vestas turbines have a capacity of 3.3 megawatts, and they’ve helped the school cut its electricity consumption from as high as 9 million kilowatt hours a year to about 5 million. Future energy efficiency gains could push consumption down to a target of 4 million kWh each year.

If that becomes the case, the school will then be producing more energy than it is consuming.

“We’re one of the few campuses in the country, and perhaps the world, that is approaching zero net energy and zero net carbon — and that’s without buying green energy from another source,” said Ed Terceiro, a former school official who helped lead the wind turbine project.

MWCC’s $9 million wind development was funded through a $3.2 million Department of Energy grant, a $2.1 million low-interest Clean Renewal Energy Bond and a $3.7 million bond from Massachusetts Clean Energy Investment.

The school also moved to the forefront of the energy conversation when it became a charter signatory of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, an organization that helps schools create and implement plans to attain carbon neutrality — both through renewable energy programs and gains in efficiency.

“I don’t think there’s any college, whether it’s a community college or a university, that is involved in as many initiatives as we are currently involved in,” said MWCC President Daniel Asquino.

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