On Friday, Oct. 19, the Board of Trustees will begin discussing a $20 million energy plan that outlines potential energy options recommended to Wellesley College by energy company Ameresco. According to Nathalie Bolduc ’19, student representative to the Sustainability Advisory Committee, the Board of Trustees will also discuss the future of the cogeneration plant.
The cogeneration plant, which is located next to Lulu, used to provide electricity for the college before it broke down over the summer. The College has since switched to purchasing all of its energy from the Wellesley town grid. According to Bolduc, about 16% of the energy coming from the grid is sustainably sourced. However, purchasing energy from the grid is expensive, and unlikely to be a practical solution in the long term. A current proposal includes installing a new power plant to run during peak electricity demand and sourcing the rest of the power from the grid.
Moving the campus to sustainable energy sources has been a major priority in recent years. Often spearheaded by students, progress has been steady but ongoing. EnAct, Wellesley’s environmental justice organization, has been working with the Board of Trustees to establish more sustainable energy practices since 2014. In 2014, students created a divestment campaign, which advocated for a complete divestment from fossil fuels to power Wellesley’s campus, and brought it to the Board of Trustees. More recently, EnAct organized the “Renew Wellesley” campaign to encourage the College to switch to renewable energy. The goal of the campaign was to create a campus that is completely dependent on renewable energy sources, rather than fossil fuels. In 2014, the Board of Trustees established the “Green Revolving Fund.” According to Samantha Hoang ’19, co-president of EnAct, the Green Revolving Fund is a $500,000 fund that “supports sustainability projects and cycles the monetary savings for future projects.”
Wellesley’s Green Revolving Fund was given a trial period of six years. However, according to Hoang, only $180,000 was spent before the funds were frozen without explanation. Members of EnAct met with members of the Board of Trustees throughout Fall 2017 to discuss the situation and in Spring 2018, the Board voted to commit $300,000 per year for 10 years towards sustainability initiatives on campus. Though this seems like a smaller amount of money, it presents a more ideal situation to the members of EnAct. According to Hoang, the Green Revolving Fund “could only cycle funding for new projects after money was saved from the efficiency of resources.” Essentially, the money was only awarded on a one-time basis. If students wanted to implement new projects, they would have to wait long periods of time for funds to replenish themselves. The new funding situation allows the college to fund projects without having to wait years for more funds.
Hoang also hopes to push for more transparency in funding announcements from the Board of Trustees. “One of the main aspects of EnAct’s GRF campaign was how the administration has not been transparent in their removal of the GRF, even until today,” Hoang said. “We hope that the administration will make a school-wide announcement where they take accountability for their lack of transparency for the past few years and show that they are taking steps forward to commit to this replacement fund.”
Ultimately, student sustainability advocates would like to see Wellesley take greater steps towards carbon neutrality. With regards to the decision the Board will make this week, Bolduc says, “We do not necessarily have to produce our own clean energy, as this would be expensive in the short term. There are steps, however, that I would like to see the administration think seriously about such as buying green energy at a premium from the grid. The College needs to begin taking environmental sustainability into account when making all new investments. It is no longer morally or economically justifiable to continue with business as usual as climate change has real impacts on people’s lives.”