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DAM FINE IDEA


In 2012, a confluence of bad news and good news generated a particularly creative thought in the minds of Mike Hall and, just across town, Omay Elphick ’93. The bad news was that many small hydroelectric dams in New York State were grow- ing old, needing repairs, and earning insufficient incomes from depressed electricity prices. The good news was the state legislature’s supporting of renewable energy by allowing “re- mote net metering,” whereby renewable energy can be gener- ated in one location and credited to its producer in another location. A renewables advocate and developer, Elphick says the legislation was “an aha moment” for him. And Hall, Skid- more’s longtime former budget director and now its specialist for energy projects, says, “I immediately jumped on the idea of a small hydro project for Skidmore.” Very few colleges are involved with hydro power, except perhaps to buy some through their regular energy compa- nies. Cornell has long operated two hydroelectric generators, now providing about 1,100 kilowatt-hours per year, and Western Technical College in Wisconsin has started up a dam. But Skidmore’s plans put it in a whole different league. Hall partnered with Elphick as director of power marketing at Gravity Re- newables, a firm with small hydro plants and development interests across the country, and they soon settled on a promising dam at


Chittenden Falls, about 60 miles south of campus. Skidmore began receiving credit for its electricity in May. “This is the first project of its kind in the country,” ac- cording to Elphick, who adds, “There is no ‘How-to Guide to Renewable Energy Development.’ We’re helping to create the field as we go.” Even the National Grid power company is learning from its innovative customer: it had to enter the credit on Skidmore’s utility bill by hand, says Hall. (Citing “his efforts in helping Skidmore become an early adopter of innovative programs like this, providing significant green energy as well as savings,” Mike West, Skidmore’s VP for fi- nance and administration, calls Mike Hall “an exemplar for ‘Creative Thought Matters.’” Facing Hall’s upcoming retire- ment, West says he’ll “greatly miss his wisdom and experi- ence” in sustainability, emergency management, finance, energy, and other areas.)


The scenic and historic Chittenden Falls dam was built in 1809 to run a paper mill and then refitted to supply electrici- ty to the power grid in 1979. But age has taken a toll. As its new owner, Gravity Renewables has been removing, refur- bishing, and reinstalling equipment and completing other upgrades to bring the facility up to date. With Gravity operat- ing the dam on Skidmore’s behalf, Elphick explains, “Skid- more’s 20-year agreement to buy the power gives it a stable, affordable electricity source and justifies Gravity’s capital in- vestment to make the facility viable again. Together we save


this solid, existing resource that might otherwise be at risk of rusting away.”


“All Skidmore owns is the meter box,” notes Hall. “We’re getting savings without any up-front investment and without building any infrastructure ourselves.” Another bonus: Skid- more has access to the site, including a small building, for teaching and research. Hall is gratified that environmental studies faculty were keen to use the facility for course work, and Elphick says, “I love the academic potential—to study issues from electricity generation to economic development, from policy and tax law to environmental impacts.” Chittenden Falls is expected to supply 4 million kilowatt- hours per year, for 18% of Skidmore’s total electricity usage.


“SKIDMORE GETS AFFORDABLE


O! SUNNY DAY Skidmore’s second big foray into remote net metering this year is with an eight-acre array of 6,950 solar panels, on part of its Denton Road property. One of the largest photovoltaic arrays in the state, it supplies approximately 2.8 million kWh to the power grid each year in return for a utility bill credit, covering 12% of Skidmore’s overall electricity needs.


ELECTRICITY, AND GRAVITY RENEWABLES MAKES THE FACILITY VIABLE AGAIN. TOGETHER WE SAVE THIS SOLID,


EXISTING RESOURCE THAT MIGHT OTHER- WISE BE AT RISK OF RUSTING AWAY.”


The Association for the Ad- vancement of Sustainability in Higher Education recently counted just 43 campuses with photovoltaic arrays of 1 million kWh or more. It’s no surprise that two of the


biggest are at the University of Arizona and Arizona State. In the wintry northeast, Rutgers has been one of the few—until now.


At Skidmore’s site, each row of panels is wired to a junc- tion box leading to a small concrete building where inverters swap the DC power to AC and then transformers step up its voltage to match the high-capacity cables that connect to utility poles just beyond the home-run fence of Castle Base- ball Diamond.


Again Skidmore had no major costs up front; it doesn’t own the panels and equipment, which were installed by Dy- namic Solar, but simply has a long-term contract for the ener- gy they generate—another case of “creative partnering,” ac- cording to Hall. And with $2.35 million in grants from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, through the NY-Sun program, it was also a case of “making the most of grant opportunities.” The creative partnering also involved the Town of Green- field for permitting. As a pioneering project, the solar field raised some aesthetic concerns among local residents, which Skidmore addressed with landscape screening and other measures. “So we’re being good community neighbors,” Hall observes, “even beyond reducing our carbon footprint.” On a smaller scale, Skidmore this summer introduced rooftop solar on the Kimball, Penfield, Wilmarth, and Mc- Clellan residence halls and the Van Lennep Stables. The 10


24 SCOPE FALL 2014


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