SUNY Oswego Maps Self-sustaining Future in Presidents Climate Commitment Action Plan

<p>The quad at SUNY Oswego. Photo courtesy of SUNY Oswego.</p>
The quad at SUNY Oswego. Photo courtesy of SUNY Oswego.

OSWEGO — SUNY Oswego’s recently submitted climate action plan projects achieving a carbon-neutral campus before 2050.

Oswego was one of 88 colleges and universities nationwide that submitted climate action plans by Sept. 15, the earliest deadline established for the plans under the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which Oswego’s president, Deborah F. Stanley, signed in 2007.

In developing the plan in association with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and C & S Engineers, SUNY Oswego found that carbon and dollar savings are well within the college’s grasp, said Jerry DeSantis, sustainability coordinator for the campus.

“Being carbon neutral is really achievable for us,” DeSantis said. “In the next decade we can achieve somewhere around a 40 percent reduction (in carbon emissions) by implementing some very traditional technologies and just being smart about it.”

Oswego’s plan calls for reducing carbon emissions through conservation and improved energy and transportation management and, additionally, through gradually adopting renewable energy technologies.

SUNY Oswego has committed to build all new structures to at least the U.S. Green Building Council silver standard for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It has committed to the gold standard for both the new science facility engulfing Piez Hall and the new Village residential complex near Glimmerglass Lagoon.

Renewable energy sources

In line with that commitment, these structures will incorporate some renewable energy technologies. Most promising for the science building are geothermal technologies, DeSantis said.

Test wells have been drilled to confirm that geothermal energy — from the underground temperature of the earth or ground water — can be used to heat the building in winter and cool it in summer, said John Moore of the college’s Office of Facilities, Design and Construction. The tests show that “heat conductivity and transfer is going to be very good for us” at the Piez site, he added.

The long-term goal is to use Lake Ontario for geothermal energy. “Lake Ontario doesn’t freeze and heat energy is available,” Moore said. “This is a resource that’s not going away.”

But to use the lake cost-effectively, DeSantis said, many other pieces of the puzzle need to be in place first. Building an intake far out into the lake will be expensive, he explained. A critical mass of structures ready to implement geothermal energy, as well as expertise in this technology, must be developed in the area, ideally involving the school district, Oswego Hospital, businesses and more.

Long-term vision

Over the next several decades, DeSantis said he envisions a co-generation plant where the Oswego Steam Station sits now, next to the campus, and an intermodal transportation center at the Forks in the Road. “It’s a vision that is achievable,” he maintained.

Oswego’s climate action plan addresses the need for community coordination and leadership by including plans for incorporating sustainability in the curriculum, as the college trains future leaders, and through community outreach efforts.

Among programs the college has completed or is continuing are the summer Energy Institute for schoolteachers, various town halls and forums, and the sustainability academies begun this fall on campus and at Oswego State Downtown.

DeSantis painted a rosy picture of the future. “It’s not a future where everybody has to sacrifice. It’s a future where things can be better,” he said — cleaner, more efficient, less costly and more secure, because the college and community would be less reliant on faraway sources of energy.

Moore said that he hopes the college will be operationally self-sustaining in 30 years. “We’ve looked at what we have to do to be self-sustaining so that we can be here in 100 years,” he said. “We’re trying to position ourselves so that the price of oil can go up and down, the price of natural gas can go up and down, and we don’t care.”

Near-term savings

DeSantis predicted that rather than being burdensome, investments in green technologies over the next decade would accrue dollar savings on the order of 10 to 15 percent beyond covering their costs. “We thought being carbon neutral would be like going to the moon. But it’s not,” he said. “The technology exists for us to make tremendous reductions and achieve savings.”

Download SUNY Oswego’s climate action plan at http://acupcc.aashe.org/upload/cap/NzItY2FwLmRvYw==.dl (Word doc, 7.9MB).