Senior seminar investigates renewable energy

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Senior seminar investigates renewable energy

June 15, 2010

By Diane Munroe, Coordinator for Community Based Environmental Studies

This year, all three sections of our Environmental Studies Senior Seminar (ENVS 401) shared a common thematic focus—“energy.” This approach had many benefits, which included delving deeper into the project topics, affording subsequent semesters the chance to build off of previous student work, and strengthening relationships with the community partners we worked with. We plan to continue this new approach next year around the theme of “water.”

For our energy theme, the fall and winter term sections of the seminar focused on aspects of the College’s biomass gasification facility, and the spring section focused on solar energy. The College was a primary partner for all three terms, and students submitted recommendations and proposals to the administration that will help guide our campus sustainability efforts.

For the fall term, students collaborated with the College, Vermont Family Forests, and Cousineau Forest Products to develop a set of procurement standards for the wood chips that fuel our biomass gasification facility. Project groups focused on identifying forestry and harvesting practices for the current supply, developing recommendations for optimal forestry and harvesting practices for future supply, and designing monitoring and enforcement schemes for these new standards.

Continuing our collaboration with the College and Vermont Family Forests, students spent the winter term investigating how forestry and harvesting practices associated with our current biomass supply impact a given forest area’s ability to sequester carbon—both soil carbon and carbon sequestered through tree regeneration. Students then paired this analysis with estimating carbon emitted from our biomass facility in an attempt to recommend forestry and harvesting practices that would get us the closest to a carbon-neutral system.

The spring semester team shifted their attention from biomass to solar electrical energy generation. One project was to analyze solar potential on municipal lands in partnership with the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, helping to further their goal of increasing locally produced renewable energy. Another group worked with two committees from the state legislature to analyze and gauge interest in a piece of legislation that would incentivize solar development on Vermont dairy farms.

The students took great pride in advancing projects that will hopefully be implemented by their alma mater.

The complete project reports can be found here.