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Smith College aims to cut campus carbon emissions by 2030

At Smith College in Northampton, Mass., a geothermal 'test' borehole was drilled on campus in September 2019.
Smith College
At Smith College in Northampton, Mass., a geothermal 'test' borehole was drilled on campus in September 2019.

Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, has set a goal to eliminate fossil fuels for heating and cooling buildings by 2030.

Officials said a geothermal system will be used around most of the campus.

"There is a collective momentum around the technology, the experience and the policy that's helping us in this moment," said Dano Weisbord, Smith's associate vice president of campus planning and sustainability.

He said other colleges are making similar investments, in concert with Massachusetts's energy goals. When construction of Smith's new $210 million geothermal system is completed, the campus will reduce its carbon emissions by 90%.

Renewable electricity will power the system, which Weisbord said comes with some controversy in New England.

"The urgency around climate change is high, and the solutions are not perfect and we may need to accept some imperfect choices in order to move down that path of decarbonization," he said.

Currently Smith makes 70% of its electricity using natural gas.

"We buy 30% of our electricity from a solar facility in Farmington, Maine. That was a contract that we did together with Williams, Amherst, Hampshire and Bowdoin colleges," Weisbord said.

In the future as Smith burns less gas and uses more electricity, Weisbord said the college will buy larger quantities of renewable electricity.

"It's really important to us that we are being a model and we're showing people that this is possible," he said. "There is a moral imperative, but also a business case behind this, and we are really open to sharing what we're doing."

Smith's vehicles and grounds equipment are moving toward electric. Those are highly visible but fairly small energy users, compared to buildings, Weisbord said.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."
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