Sustainability commitment leads BHSU to many ‘firsts’

Black Hills State University You are leaving (BHSU) in Spearfish, South Dakota, is joining other higher education leaders in renewable energy and sustainable operations by becoming the first university with extensive use of solar power.

The institutional WAPA customer is investigating installing solar panels on four campus buildings to serve those facilities’ energy needs and reduce electricity costs. The solar generation would replace supplemental power from Black Hills Energy and save BHSU an estimated $10,000 in the first year, according to information from the South Dakota Board of Regents.

Dedicated to sustainability
Cost savings—and a hedge against fuel prices—is a great reason for any business to install a renewable energy system, but for BHSU it is not the only one. The university was the first in South Dakota to join the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, You are leaving and under the Carbon Commitment program, You are leaving has set a goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

This 1.8-kilowatt wind turbine in front of the LEED Gold-certified student union puts generates a small amount of electricity and raises awareness about renewable energy.
This 1.8-kilowatt wind turbine in front of BHSU’s LEED Gold-certified student union generates a small amount of electricity and raises awareness about renewable energy. (Photo by Black Hills State University)

The process began with a Climate Action Plan, and includes participation in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System You are leaving (STARS). The voluntary self-reporting system helps colleges and universities to assess progress in meeting sustainability goals and sustainability leadership. STARS ratings are based on three main categories: education and research; operation and planning; administration and engagement. On Earth Day 2014, BHSU received a STARS Silver rating, making it the first South Dakota university to achieve that international rating.

Among the “green” initiatives that helped BHSU earn its rating are strong building efficiency standards, a robust recycling program and a campus community garden. Campus dining facilities The Hive and The Buzz Shack both achieved Green Restaurant Certification You are leaving in 2014, the first university-attached restaurants in the state to do so.

The university has already made small forays into the use of renewables, installing solar-powered lighting at campus entrances and a 1.8-kilowatt wind turbine in front of the student union. “It puts a small amount of generation back onto the grid and provides an introduction to renewable energy for students and visitors,” said Corinne Hansen, BHSU director of university and community relations.

Everyone involved
BHSU students, faculty and staff serve on the Sustainability Committee, which recommends strategies to advance BHSU’s climate goals. This committee meets every semester to plan activities that promote sustainability efforts on campus, and to educate the campus community on sustainability issues.

Successful strategies include faculty carpool and bike leasing programs to cut down on emissions from commutes around town and between Spearfish and the BHSU Rapid City campus. Landscaping with a stormwater management system slows and diverts runoff.

Sustainability concepts have been incorporated into lesson plans and even art projects, including an exhibit at the student union of sculptures made from recycled materials. The school received a national grant to fund a research project on solar cell materials and students have developed business plans for an innovative mobile recycling business.

Building for future
As part of the Climate Action Plan, all new buildings and major renovations at BHSU are built to LEED You are leaving (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver or higher standards. The David B. Miller Yellow Jacket Student Union was the first state building to earn this standard, earning LEED Gold after its 2009 renovation.

The LEED Silver Life Science Laboratory has been chosen as one of the four sites for the solar arrays. Features that earned the building its LEED rating include a design that maximizes daylighting; the incorporation of recycled and local materials during construction; low-flow plumbing fixtures and low emitting carpet, paint, adhesives and sealants.

The other three buildings identified for the solar project include the Young Center, Woodburn Hall and the library, with the Young Center to be the first. “All four buildings have new roofs and good solar exposure,” explained Hansen. “The Young Center has the biggest roof by square feet.”

Lighting retrofits have helped to reduce the electrical loads in the Young Center and the library.

More to come
The university expects installation of the solar panels to be completed this summer, but sustainability is more than just clean energy. BHSU aims to decrease its waste stream by 25 percent from 2014 to 2018 by expanding recycling initiatives and introducing a user-friendly, desk-side disposal system. Going beyond recycling, a plan to discourage the use of disposable water bottles was launched in 2014 with the installation of filtered water bottle-filling stations across campus. Facilities Services will continue to replace traditional water fountains with water bottle-refill stations as needed.

Building upgrades will continue to increase campus energy efficiency, especially areas where electricity or heating demands can be significantly reduced. A complete upgrade of the building automation system is planned for 2018. Also in the next year, BHSU is planning an energy savings performance contract covering all campus academic buildings.

Ultimately, these projects and new ones that will arise as BHSU moves toward climate neutrality are as much about the future of the students as the future of the planet. Renewable energy systems, energy efficiency and recycling will reduce the university’s operating costs over the long term, and the savings can be channeled into improving education. More importantly, embracing sustainability principles prepares students for a rapidly changing world in which they will have many opportunities to achieve their own “firsts.”

City of Palo Alto Utilities awarded Public Power Utility of the Year

Palo Alto’s municipal utility takes solar energy mainstream in drive for 100% carbon-free electric supply

The Solar Electric Power AssociationRedirecting to a non-government site (SEPA), an educational nonprofit organization that helps utilities integrate solar electric power into their energy portfolios, has named the City of Palo Alto UtilitiesRedirecting to a non-government site (CPAU) as Public Power Utility of the Year. The award was announced on Oct. 21 at the Solar Power International conference in Las Vegas.

Julia Hamm, president and CEO of SEPA, praised the municipal utility for “walking the talk” of community focus, and pointed to CPAU’s customer-friendly menu of solar services and tariffs. “The agency has demonstrated innovation and pragmatism in leveraging affordable solar to meet its goal of becoming a carbon-free utility,” Hamm stated.

Founded in 2005, SEPA’s annual awards recognize organizations and individuals advancing utility innovation, industry collaboration and leadership in the solar energy sector.

Palo Alto Mayor Nancy Shepherd called the award a tremendous honor for the city. “We continually strive to be on the cutting edge of environmental sustainability,” said Mayor Shepherd. “This award recognizes how public and private partnerships, along with forward-thinking community support for renewable energy, can allow cities to successfully reduce their carbon footprint.”

Road to carbon neutrality
The 2014 award recognizes the City of Palo Alto Utilities for its leadership and innovation in demonstrating solar energy’s viability as a mainstream power source. The utility has continuously increased the size of its solar electric portfolio. A recent power purchase agreement puts the city on track to have a 100-percent carbon-free electric supply portfolio by the year 2017. The city implemented a 100-percent carbon-neutral electric policy in 2013, purchasing energy from renewable sources, as well as purchasing renewable energy certificates to offset “brown” market power resources.

Most recently, The Palo Alto City Council approved a plan to encourage local solar generation, with options for community and group buys for customers who want to support solar energy but cannot install a solar system on their own property. With the Local Solar Program strategy, the utility aims to increase the local solar installations from 5 Megawatts (MW) at the end of 2013 to 23 MW by 2023.

The utility also offers customers a full set of solar services and incentives, including residential and commercial rebate programs, expedited permit processing, green power purchase premium options, workshops, one-on-one advice and coordination with industry representatives. A feed-in-tariff CPAU established in 2012 provides third parties with the opportunity to install solar arrays on local businesses and sell the energy back to the utility.

Western congratulates the City of Palo Alto on its award, and on its progress toward a carbon-neutral power supply. Energy Services is available to help all Western customers meet their planning and sustainability goals. Contact Energy Service Manager Ron Horstman or your regional Energy Services representative for more information.

Source: City of Palo Alto Utilities, 10/21/14

City of Palo Alto now running on carbon-free electricity

[Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the April 2013 Energy Services Bulletin.] 

Renewables already make up the bulk of CPAU’s supply portfolio. The utility buys renewable energy certificates to offset the market power portion. (Artwork by City of Palo Alto Utilities)
Renewables already make up the bulk of CPAU’s supply portfolio. The utility buys renewable energy certificates to offset the market power portion. (Artwork by City of Palo Alto Utilities)

Boldly going where very few municipalities in the United States have gone before, the Palo Alto, Calif., Redirecting to a non-government site city council has committed to pursue only carbon-neutral electric resources from now on. Implementing a Carbon Neutral Plan is expected to reduce 330,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2013 through 2016. Beyond 2016, most of the city’s reductions of GHG emissions will come from achieving a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) of about 50 percent.

Taking carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere won’t take money out of rate payers’ pockets, however. The City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) estimates that the carbon neutrality plan will increase the average electric bill by less than $3 per year.

No time like the present

Reaching carbon neutrality was not a matter of “if,” but “when.” The city got the ball rolling in 2003, passing an RPS of 33 percent new renewable energy by 2015—five years sooner than California’s target. Creating a Climate Protection Plan in 2007 moved the ball forward, and when renewable energy prices dropped over the last two years, the goal came within reach sooner than expected. Mayor Greg Scharff commented, “When we realized we could achieve a carbon neutral electric supply right now, we were compelled to take action.”

To meet its aggressive RPS, Palo Alto issues requests for proposals (RFPs) annually. The response to the RFPs was particularly strong in 2011 and 2012, and the prices were very competitive. “Especially on solar,” noted Jane Ratchye, Palo Alto’s assistant utilities director for the Resource Management division. “We signed one large solar contract that increased our renewable portfolio by about 5 percent.  We are also negotiating with three more solar developers that could increase our RPS dramatically.”

Along with wind, landfill gas-to-energy and existing hydropower from Western and other hydro plants, more than 70 percent of CPAU’s electricity supply is renewable now. Short-term renewable energy certificate (REC) purchases offset the non-renewable market power that provides the balance of the city’s needs.

Palo Alto layered on renewable energy contracts, starting with two large wind purchases that were signed in 2004 and began delivering renewable energy in 2005 and 2006. Several more long-term contracts have been signed to bring CPAU’s new renewable generation to 35 percent by 2015.” After that, we will be negotiating to reach 50 percent, as long as we can stay within the RPS annual rate impact limit of .5 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh),” Ratchye said.

It’s all in the planning

Renewable acquisitions alone are not enough to turn a city carbon neutral. The Climate Protection Plan set short-, medium- and long-term goals to reduce GHG emissions citywide and identified the steps to reach them.

Resource planners will immediately recognize the strategies: Rebates for energy efficiency upgrades, a generous solar incentive  (and a new feed-in tariff), a voluntary green power premium program  and the RPS. These measures enabled the city to reduce emissions by 42,968 metric tons of CO2, or 10 percent below 2005 levels. Having exceeded its 2009 and 2012 goals, Palo Alto is updating its long-range emissions reduction goal of 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. This would avoid 119,140 metric tons of CO2 and bring the community in line with state emission reduction goals.

Demand side management plays a critical role in freeing Palo Alto from carbon- intensive resources. The utility submits an update of its 10-year Energy Efficiency Plan to city council every three years. The 2010 update more than doubled the energy-efficiency goals of the previous report. The goals are also aimed to meet state mandates requiring efficiency resources as the first choice in evaluating utility supply options.

California continues to raise its energy-efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, and that pushes utilities to work harder and spend fractionally more to achieve energy savings. CPAU’s levelized cost of electric energy efficiency in 2010 was $.05 per kWh, compared to $.056 in 2012. Its annual report points out, however, that compared to new renewable energy purchases, the city is still getting a bargain. “The state law only allows us to claim the energy savings above the standards, but the upgrades still produce savings,” added Ratchye. “And those are significant.”

You can do it too

Admittedly, Palo Alto’s location helped its quest to become carbon neutral—being in a state with high standards for sustainability, policies to support efficiency and renewables and an abundance of alternative energy sources has its advantages. Also, as a built-out community, Palo Alto anticipates little load growth, although a new large businesses coming to the area could increase demand.

None of that should keep other cities from striving to reduce GHG emissions, though. The Carbon Neutral Plan is designed to be transparent, sustainable and repeatable by other communities. The first step, Ratchye advised, is to get the city council’s buy-in, and then agree on the definition of carbon neutral. “Once you have that definition, you can move forward,” she said.
To measure Palo Alto’s GHG emissions and verify reductions, the city council chose the outside, independent The Climate Registry (TCR) Electric Power Sector Protocol. “It was important to adopt a standard that would have meaning to other entities and that they could use as a reference,” stated Ratchye. 

Under the protocol, the city will achieve carbon neutrality on an annual basis. The system allows the utility to bank RECs from one year to the next, and to calculate the emissions from renewable energy sources so that those, too, can be offset. “That’s critical, because some renewables, such as geothermal energy, may have modest amounts of emissions,” Ratchye explained. “You have to account for those if you claim to be truly carbon neutral.”

Make no mistake, the City of Palo Alto wants to be truly carbon neutral and hopes other cities will follow its lead. As Bruce Hodge, founder of Carbon Free Palo Alto, noted in the city’s press release, “By taking this first step of de-carbonizing its electricity supply, Palo Alto has established itself in the vanguard of forward-thinking communities.”