Mount Wachusett Community College Recognized for Climate Leadership

Mount Wachusett Community College receives Second Nature’s 2nd Annual Climate Leadership Award. Award recipients were recognized at the 5th Annual American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) Summit in Washington, DC on June 23rd, hosted by George Washington University.

With President Daniel Asquino leading the college for more than twenty years,Mount Wachusett Community College (MWCC) was at the forefront of the national climate movement when it converted its all-electric campus to biomass heating in 2002 to save on energy costs and reduce its carbon footprint. The tremendous success of that initiative – implemented at zero net cost to the college through grants and energy rebates – led to other renewable solutions including solar and wind energy.

This year, MWCC activated two new 1.65 MW wind turbines. The Vestas V82 turbines are expected to generate 97 percent of the college’s annual electricity demand, plus return an additional 30 percent of power back to the grid. With the college’s biomass heating, 100KW photovoltaic array, and solar domestic hot water technologies incorporated into the mix, MWCC anticipates operating as a zero net energy campus and nearing carbon neutrality.

MWCC’s wind energy project is an integral component in the Massachusetts Leading by Example Program initiated by Gov. Deval Patrick to achieve statewide goals for clean and renewable energy. The $9 million project, a collaboration between the college and key state agencies, is being funded through $3.2 million in U.S. Department of Energy grants, $2.1 million from a low interest Clean Renewal Energy Bond (CREB); and $3.7 million from Massachusetts Clean Energy Investment Bonds.

These technologies are integrated into teaching and learning experiences, particularly in MWCC’s Natural Resources and Energy Management programs. MWCC is a member of AACC‘s Sustainability Education and Economic Development (SEED) Center, a leadership initiative and resource center that provides strategic guidance and detailed resources for community colleges to ramp-up their programs to educate America’s 21st century workforce. In addition, students have access to geothermal technology at a residential rehabilitation center built on campus by a local nonprofit organization to serve wounded combat veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When the main campus was built in the early 1970s, electricity was expected to be an inexpensive commodity. Instead, the cost escalated, and by the late 1990s, the college was spending more than $750,000 a year on electricity alone. The administration sought renewable energy solutions while simultaneously implementing more than a dozen Energy Conservation Measures, including lighting retrofitting, automatic lighting controls, a new pool cover, filter and ventilation system in the natatorium, and HVAC upgrades, again with the assistance of grants and energy rebates to defray costs.

Over the past decade, the college increased in size to its present 450,000 square feet and nearly tripled the number of computers, yet through these innovative strategies, annual electrical consumption has dropped by nearly half – from 9 million kWh per year to 5 million kWh.

The message of sustainability is incorporated throughout the campus community. For example, the Honors Program colloquium centered on Health Nutrition and Sustainability, and the student club, The Green Society, helped initiate an organic Community Garden, an organic kitchen garden, single-stream recycling and a composting program that to date has removed more than a ton of kitchen scraps from the waste stream. The institution has recently received the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Merit Awards for outstanding efforts in preserving New England’s environment.

A charter signatory of the ACUPCC and aptly located on Green Street in Gardner, Mass, MWCC is a true example of how an institution can invest in clean energy, elevate awareness about the need for alternative energy solutions in the U.S., and ultimately address the global climate crisis.