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Allegheny College has a New Year’s resolution all geared up and ready to go. Beginning Saturday, 100 percent of the college’s electric power will be supplied by wind energy, a move that will eliminate 52 percent of the institution’s carbon footprint, its estimated impact on global climate change calculated in terms of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

Don’t, however, think that a forest of windmills will soon be dotting the campus landscape. The college will continue to physically draw its power from “the grid,” the network of power lines connecting power plants to the users of the power they generate.

What will really change, Sustainability Coordinator Kelly Boulton said recently, is that Allegheny will switch its electricity supplier to Constellation Energy and begin purchasing energy credits equal to 100 percent of its power usage. At the current time, both electricity and energy credits equal to 15 percent of the college’s usage are being purchased from Penelec.

Either way, the same mix of electricity generated by a variety of sources will continue to provide power to the campus. Generally speaking, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, coal generates approximately half the electricity used in the nation, followed in descending order by nuclear, natural gas, hydropower, oil and renewables.

The grid doesn’t store energy, so the total number of watts being fed into the system at any given time equals the total number of watts available for use. Because of the variable nature of the wind supply, the amount of wind energy fed into the grid at any given time is limited to approximately 15 percent in order to maintain grid stability.

“When the electricity is generated by a coal-powered plant, which is the typical way, the electricity goes into the grid and then goes into our homes, where we use the energy,” Boulton explained. “When a wind turbine or solar panel generates the electricity, the electricity goes into the grid and into our homes the same way.”

There is, however, at least one significant difference between electricity generated from traditional and renewable sources: For every megawatt hour generated from a renewable source, a renewable energy credit is also generated. “It levels the playing field,” Boulton said of the renewable energy credit concept. “A lot of governmental subsidies go to coal and oil. In order to transition to renewable energy generation, there’s a premium that we pay.”

That premium, she continued, “allows us to support the renewable electricity, even though it’s not in our back yard. By allowing us to purchase RECs in the same quantity as our electrical consumption guarantees that the energy we use is being added to the power grid from a renewable energy facility — and therefore supports the further development of these facilities.”

They’re paying a premium, Boulton said, “but because sustainability is important to us, it’s worth it to spend a little bit more to buy renewable electricity.” Once the current caps come off rates charged by Penelec at the beginning of the year, she added, the relatively lower rates they’ll be paying Constellation are expected to make the dollar amount of the premium insignificant.

The credits are known as Green-e certified, which means that it has been independently verified that the power has been generated in accordance with consumer-protection and environmental-integrity standards for carbon offsets sold in the voluntary market.

“Our agreement to purchase Green-e certified wind energy for all of our power takes us halfway toward fulfilling the promise we made when we signed the President’s Climate Commitment in 2007,” said David McInally, Allegheny executive vice president and treasurer. “It represents a major step forward for Allegheny and supports our educational mission, operational efficiency and the college’s new 10-year strategic plan.”

In addition to the commitment to support wind energy, the college plans to institute a variety of energy-saving plans during 2011.

Inspired by the success of the winterization of Ford Chapel, which cut approximately 20 percent from the building’s fuel bill, plans call for the roof of Montgomery Gymnasium to be insulated.

Two solar panels are scheduled to be installed on Carr Hall, the future home of the Richard J. Cook Center for Environmental Science. Carlyn Johnson, a senior with a double major in physics and environmental science, has brokered a deal with UGI Performance Solutions to trade energy-audit work performed by environmental science students for the solar panel systems.

Lighting system upgrades are planned for the Campus Center and Pelletier Library.

A variety of building envelope improvements to the 454 House, Carnegie Hall and the Odd Fellows Building are expected to be completed.

Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at mspicer@meadvilletribune.com.

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