Saturday, February 28, 2009

Back to the Future

You may have noticed less frequent postings to this blog lately. Allow me to explain. My spare time has been focused over the past few months on a quest to become the first Director of Sustainability at Indiana University and making the transition from one career to another. I start that new career on Monday.

For me this is a return to the beautiful Bloomington campus where I first learned about the foundational ecological concepts that guided my career as an architect and led me to focus on the sustainable design of buildings and communities. The Indiana University Task Force on Sustainability has been busy the past two years formulating a road map for a more sustainable campus and I am anxious to catalyze the implementation of that exciting strategic plan in collaboration with a cast of thousands. This is also an opportunity for me to teach, learn, lead, research and write in a career where my personal mission and what I get paid to do are in complete alignment. That is a my definition of a dream job.

Stay tuned as I head back to the future and attempt to have as much positive impact on my alma mater as it has had on me.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ball State University Going Geothermal to Slash Their Carbon Footprint in Half

Ball State University's Board of Trustees voted Friday to cut their campus carbon footprint in half by investing in the largest university geothermal heating and cooling system in the country in lieu of a proposed upgrade of their coal-fired boiler plant.

Four coal-fired boilers will be taken off line in two phases saving $2 million and 85,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually. In addition, the switch will place BSU on the positive side of the proposed carbon cap and trade economy where they will be able to sell carbon credits and they will have greater immunity to volatile fossil fuel prices and new EPA regulations for coal-fired plant emissions, according to their news release.

To finance this bold plan, BSU plans to use $41.8 million already in hand that was previously approved for boiler replacement and apply it to the new geothermal proposal. The proposed system will be phased in and will be partially paid for with savings. It may also be poised for some of the federal stimulus package money as a "shovel ready" project. Speaking of shovels, to provide enough heat transfer capacity to heat and cool 40 buildings on campus, they will need 3,750 boreholes 400 feet deep. This is not a well system, but a closed-loop system that uses the earth as a heat sink and does not tap into water supplies like an open-well system. Borrowing heat from the earth and using it for cooling requires a fraction of the energy needed to generate heat and cooling using conventional methods.

Ball State University President Jo Ann M. Gora was a Charter Signatory to the American College & University President's Climate Commitment, which now includes 609 institutions representing over 30% of our nation's college student population. Under her visionary leadership, BSU has been a national leader in convening events for collaboration among colleges and universities to promote more sustainable campuses and curricula to deal with climate change. Robert Koester, AIA, LEED AP, Director of the BSU Center for Energy Research, Education, & Service and Chair of the BSU Committee on the Environment has been a pioneer in the campus sustainability movement and the driving force behind their important Greening of the Campus Conferences.

As an alumnus of Ball State University, I could not be happier with this strategic direction. It seems every time I pick up a publication that is describing the tsunami that is the campus sustainability movement, Ball State is named as an exemplary example. See the National Wildlife Federation's outstanding Campus Ecology publication, for example. One of the many benefits of this strategy is to attract the best and brightest students and faculty. A recent survey by the Princeton Review, which now issues Green Scores for campuses, noted that 63% of college candidates consider campus sustainability as an important part of their college decision process. In addition, this strategy represents a smart investment with a guaranteed return due to avoidance of rising utility and regulatory costs for fossil fuels. Finally, it transforms the University into a learning lab where theory becomes reality and the economic, social and environmental bottom line is all positive. I can easily imagine business classes where undergrads are learning about the advantages of clean renewable energy by looking at their university's own high-performance energy systems and comparing the costs and benefits verses conventional systems. Everybody wins, including Indiana taxpayers, and creative brain power triumphs over bureaucratic inertia.

Allow me to suggest a next step: create a for-profit consortium to build a large wind farm with the capacity to offset the campus electrical load, with reserves to provide for future growth and to provide a carbon neutral campus. Indiana has significant wind capacity, as already demonstrated in six counties and it is poised to be the 15th state in terms of total wind power capacity when all the wind projects in development are completed. The Cardinal Power consortium would be able to leverage the new tax incentives and carbon cap and trade credits for the next twenty years while it sells electricity to the University for an attractive 20-year fixed rate. After that period, the University owns the wind farm and essentially has no need to buy fuel, assuming they have converted their entire campus fleet to electric vehicles by then. Outrageous? Twenty colleges and universities have already invested in wind power and several others are utlizing large-scale solar electric systems. If BSU combines renewable energy with building energy efficiency upgrades, they could have excess power to sell to help pay for more interesting things, like reduced tuition and increased pay for employees.

What is outrageous in these rapidly changing times is business as usual. As longshoreman, philosopher, author and self-educated Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Eric Hoffer said, "In times of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists." Congratulations to Ball State University for leading America's colleges and universities to a more sustainable future.