By the end of 2028, Middlebury will transition to 100 percent renewable energy sources not derived from fossil fuels for electric and thermal power for its core Vermont campus.
Middlebury will shift to using renewable natural gas and eliminate the use of natural gas, a fossil fuel, as a supplemental energy source for its on-campus biomass-gasification plant—which already meets most of the campus’s heating and cooling needs and cogenerates 15–20 percent of Middlebury’s electricity needs.
Middlebury intends to reach 100 percent renewable electricity usage by increasing its investment in solar and hydro power. And we will seek, wherever possible, to make those investments in Vermont.
* Current as of the 2019 fiscal year. The most current data is not an accurate representation due to the affects of the pandemic and unusual campus usage.
A Complex Issue
Middlebury’s 100 percent renewable energy goal is a complex one. Most options come with trade-offs and caveats that need to be considered and weighed before committing to a path forward. Weighing the environmental and economic pros and cons is only part of it. What about the social, cultural, ethical, and moral implications that are almost always relevant to generating energy? Those are harder to define and quantify, but no less important.
Energy2028 must have an equity and justice component that requires us to look broadly at the choices we have and to ask how we could act on them in ways that create more equitable and just outcomes for all those affected by our decisions. This is an ongoing process we are including in our journey to address the Energy2028 goals.
Through work currently underway by the Environmental Council and the Climate Action Capacity Project to create updatable guiding principles, Middlebury will take into account how current energy options impact social equity and identify ways the institution can address past social injustices through our energy actions.
How Are We Doing This?
Renewable Natural Gas from Cows and Food Waste
Ten-plus years pursuing a vision for using cow manure and food waste to produce renewable natural gas (RNG) to heat and power the campus have come to fruition.
A partnership between Middlebury, the Goodrich Family Farm in Salisbury, Vanguard Renewables, and Vermont Gas Systems has led to a first-of-its-kind system that began supplying the main campus with RNG in the summer of 2021. The project has multiple benefits, including the following:
- Supplies Middlebury with enough RNG to eliminate its use of fossil fuel natural gas and shifts energy spending to the local economy, similar to the shift made when the College went from #6 fuel oil to locally sourced wood chips in 2009.
- Provides lease payments to the Goodrich family, bedding for its dairy cows, and removal of phosphorus from and storage of the nutrient-rich by-products of the digestion process so to optimize use on cropland and reduce impacts to the water quality of local streams and Lake Champlain.
- Serves as a learning model for other farm and food waste businesses in the country.
- Provides additional RNG for Vermont Gas Systems customers.
- Offers opportunities for research and student projects and other educational enrichment resources.
Watch a video created by Kat Finck ’21 in the Sustainability Solutions Lab about the Goodrich Family Farm below.
Harvesting the Sun
Middlebury’s biggest solar project ever (and the second largest in the state to date) is nearing the end of the permit process, and construction is anticipated to begin in the summer of 2021. This five-megawatt system on 30 acres of Middlebury College land on South Street Extension will join nine other Middlebury solar projects on and off-campus that comprise just over one megawatt.
This new solar project will provide enough electricity for about 29 Forest Hall-sized buildings, or about a third of the electricity used on campus.The 30-acre site on South Street Extension will house a solar farm of 29,000 panels grouped on single axis trackers that will follow the sun east to west over the day. Middlebury will retain and retire the renewable energy credits from the system. The site will be planted with pollinator species and will offer numerous opportunities for student involvement, research, and curricular usage.
A second phase of the project is also underway to locate a two-megawatt battery storage system at the site to help with managing the supply and demand dynamics of the solar power, and perhaps as an emergency source of power when there are outages.