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After wind turbine spotlight fades, where Case can make the green grade

Marc Lefkowitz  |  12/11/10 @ 11:45am

Oberlin College may have the world-wide reputation and another "A" on its report card for sustainability, but Case Western Reserve University is closing fast by investing in a plan with a $600,000 annual line item from its facilities department in green initiatives. Standing in the flickering shadow of the school's gleaming wind turbine on a breezy day last week, Case Facilities Director Gene Matthews explained where he spends his time and budget: mostly on 'low hanging' energy efficiency initiatives because they are starting to pay off handsomely, but also why the university is pursuing high profile (read: longer payback) renewable energy installations on campus.

"We did our first energy retrofit of a campus building back in 1999," Matthews recounts. "That project produced a 30% savings. After that, people around here started taking energy efficiency more seriously."

The biggest bang for the buck, he found, is in new lighting and behind the scenes stuff like motor upgrades. When Case redid its Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences building, for example, it replaced motors that use 100 kilowatt peak power with motors that can power down when not needed: As a result, they only draw 20k. They also tapped into the district chilled water service of the Medical Center Company (the power company on campus) instead of replacing MSASS' condenser. Energy savings reached $138,000 last year, Matthews said.

On a LEED-Silver renovation of Tomlinson Hall, the school spent $4,000 for a white reflective coating with the goal of reducing air conditioning loads. At its LEED-certified Village at 115, 100% of the stormwater is captured and naturally filter through perforated pipes under the football field.

A 60-kilowatt solar panel was installed by the Evergreen Solar Cooperative on Adelbert Gym, and this month the 100K wind turbine was erected to test gearless drive technology and to supply 10% or more of Veale Gym's electric power. Matthews plans to team up with the Information Technology department to install TV monitors that display real-time energy savings.

It's all part of pushing out messages of green to the student body. Include the Big Bellies- solar-powered trash compactors on campus. Paired with recycling containers, the ten Big Bellies installed around campus may be an expensive statement at $5,000 a pop, but they've eliminated seven trash cans (Matthews hopes to eliminate all non-solar bins) and reduced maintenance time by one-third (they're emptied every month instead of every day).

"[The turbine] is a $600,000 investment. The solar array is $360,000 with a 20-year payback. Like the Big Bellies, some one has to bite the bullet.

"The whole idea behind the turbine is to figure out how we can make a unit this size produce 500 kilowatts. We're going to see a whole plethora of used turbines from Germany. Can these community-scale turbines be retrofitted to have legitimate wind power in cities."

Case plans to build three more turbines ? two in the I-90 corridor, on the Sopko and Stampco properties near the lake and E. 200th Street exit and another at the university's Squire Valleevue farm-to expand its research and development around wind in an urban setting.

All of this is part and parcel to the bigger goal that Case signed onto when it's President Barbara Snyder joined the Presidents' Climate Commitment. While Oberlin is stepping up its game-cutting the Commitment's carbon neutrality goal in half (to 2025)-Case is the quiet giant in Cleveland.

"We did a carbon footprint analysis and found that we generate 250,000 metric tons of carbon a year. We're now committed to making Case carbon neutral by 2050. We'll have a climate action plan due on January 15. Renewables are part of it, solar thermal is part, and so it changing behavior. We're talking about offering variable rates to various departments so there's more incentive to curtail use."

Case got a 'B' is in the Climate Change & Energy, in Student Involvement and in Transportation. It received a 'D' grade in Endowment Transparency because, "The university does not make the shareholder voting record of its mutual funds/commingled funds public."

Under Climate Change & Energy, the university was marked down for not committing to a specific greenhouse gas emission target. In the comments, Case writes: "If it were available we would have clicked the 'Pending' button. We're currently 'in process' of making these decisions. We began assembling our (Climate Action Plan) work teams, organized by a CAP steering and executive committee in March 2010 and will begin working with Affiliated Engineers (in August 1, 2010) who have been contracted to help lead our CAP process. We have a target year, baseline year, and reduction level identified, and that is awaiting approval by our BoT (Board of Trustees)." Also, the university has not achieved a reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Case gets an "A" in the food category, largely due to its wise choice of hiring Bon Appetit as its food management company. The company manages two of the university's four campus cafeterias and purchases 23% of its food from local sources.

Under Student Involvement, Case gets credit for student environmental groups like Net Impact and the Student Sustainability Council, for establishing yearly environmental themes (Water is the campus-wide focus for 2011), and for encouraging Eco-parties, recycling drives and campus environmental forums. But it doesn't have a university sponsored, campus-wide sustainability competition, such as a dorm-versus-dorm energy savings campaign, high-profile publications and websites are missing, more sustainability curricula and proxy voting on policy such as green procurement could also be addressed.

Under Transportation, Case earned points for seven all-electric utility vehicles, for its free community circulators, and for partnering with private carsharing company CityWheels. They calculate some 45% of the student body and 15% of employees commute by a mode other than car (bike, walk or transit). The school could improve its grade with a bike sharing service, carpooling incentives, and improving its mode split (which could happen by implementing its master plan to reduce demand for transportation).

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