Where Does Campus Electricity Come From?

Mount Holyoke College buys most of its electricity from South Hadley Electric Light Department, SHELD, a municipal utility. One of Massachusetts' 40 consumer-owned utilities, SHELD has been supplying electricity to Mount Holyoke since 1914.

About 6% of our electricity is generated on-campus by the cogeneration system located in the central heating plant. The steam generated to heat the buildings passes through a backpressure steam turbine, which spins a generator set. This highly efficient setup runs during heating season (-6 months per year) to generate about 600,000 kWh. Since its installation in 1986, this system has saved the college over $1 million.

Mount Holyoke also purchases Renewable Energy Credits. Most recently, we purchased 625,000 kWh, enough to run the new residence hall for two years. The resulting greenhouse gas reduction is over 850,000 lbs of carbon dioxide per year which equates to planting 322 acres of forest.

SHELD gets its power through the New England Electric Grid, operated by ISO-New England and NEPOOL. The mix of generation resources supplying electricity to the New England grid is primarily from Natural Gas (43%), followed by Coal (25%), Oil (15%), and Nuclear (12%).

Nationwide, we rely much more heavily on Coal (51%) which is followed by Nuclear and Natural Gas (both 19%).

The good news is that New England's reliance on Natural Gas instead of Coal means fewer emissions. Our generation of greenhouse gases, 0.675 lb/kWh, is half the national average of 1.43 lb/kWh. Burning coal also releases a host of other pollutants into the atmosphere, including NOx (smog), SOx (acid rain), and Mercury (a potent neurotoxin).

The bad news is that our reliance on fossil fuels is expensive and subject to rapid price fluctuation, particularly in winter when demand is high for heating. Fuel shortages, along with congestion of the electric grid in Northeast Massachusetts and Southwest Connecticut, adversely affect the reliability of our power supply.

Reducing power consumption and peak demand, along with building smaller distributed cogeneration systems, reduces the environmental impact of electricity generation while, at the same time, improving the reliability of our electric grid. Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute often cites energy efficiency and decentralized generation as the two most capable and economically-attractive options for strengthening America's energy infrastructure. At Mount Holyoke College, we are actively pursuing both.

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