Frequently Asked Questions
Following Middlebury’s achievement of its carbon neutrality goal in 2016, Energy2028 is the next big step in the institution’s history of sustainability leadership. It is a 10-year plan to put Middlebury on a path toward a complete shift to renewable energy to power and heat its central campus. The plan also sets ambitious goals to reduce energy consumption, to phase out and, ultimately, eliminate direct fossil fuel investments in the endowment, and to support new educational opportunities. The Board of Trustees unanimously endorsed Energy2028 at its meeting on January 26, 2019. Middlebury President Laurie Patton announced the plan at an open meeting on campus on January 29, 2019.
We believe it is. Like many of Middlebury’s sustainability initiatives, it is ambitious while also being realistic and highly practical. It acknowledges that we do not have all the solutions at our disposal today to meet these goals. But it commits us to making every effort to do so. That was the case in 2007 when Middlebury committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2016. Many of the building blocks for that achievement were not in place or even fully understood until later. Yet we achieved the goal on schedule.
There are multiple paths to achieve this goal. To begin with, Middlebury already uses renewable sources for a significant amount of its energy. The biomass gasification plant primarily burns sustainable wood chips sourced locally and supplies heating and cooling to most of the core campus. Natural gas is used as a supplemental fuel when needed. Middlebury is confident that a renewable natural gas facility that produces fuel from food waste and cow manure and is now in the planning stages will produce sufficient non-fossil-fuel gas to meet the institution’s needs. Similarly, Middlebury currently gets about half of its electricity from renewable sources: a combination of solar power and electricity that is co-generated by the campus biomass plant. We believe we will make additional investments in solar. Green Mountain Power, the local electric utility, is also moving to generate more of its power from renewable sources. Finally, there is the potential to use Otter Creek as a source of hydroelectric power.
Q What new conservation efforts is Middlebury exploring as part of this plan? Is a 25 percent reduction in energy consumption realistic?
Middlebury plans to reduce energy consumption on its core campus by 25 percent by 2028. That will require both infrastructure and behavior changes that contribute to consumption. Middlebury plans to renovate and update several large academic buildings in the next five years, and each of those projects will produce significant improvements on energy efficiency. One of our priorities must be to improve our energy-use monitoring capabilities. This will be a focus of attention in the near term. Also, we will be exploring new creative ways to encourage all members of our campus community to reduce their energy usage. An internal carbon price is one such option.
An internal carbon price is one strategy that could help Middlebury address its goal of a 25 percent reduction in consumption by 2028. The Environmental Council is developing recommendations for implementing a fair internal carbon charge and determining its boundaries and the types of projects that it could fund.
Middlebury will gradually reduce the number and value of direct fossil fuel investments in its endowment and, beginning in mid-2019, will make no new direct investments in specialized funds with a focus on fossil fuels. Middlebury, in collaboration with its endowment manager, Investure, will reduce the value of direct fossil fuel investments by 25 percent in 5 years, by 50 percent in 8 years, and will eliminate such investments entirely within 15 years.
For the purposes of Energy2028, Middlebury has defined direct investments as 1) those investments held by specialist managers who maintain an investment focus on fossil fuel companies, and 2) specialist fossil fuel index funds. The commitment does not apply to endowment positions in general equity funds that may, from time to time, contain small holdings of fossil fuel investments in their portfolios. Similarly, it does not apply to broad-based market index funds, which typically do include some fossil fuel investments.
Middlebury has defined fossil fuel investment broadly to include those in enterprises whose core business is oil and gas exploration and/or production, coal mining, oil and gas equipment, services and/or pipelines. This is a far broader definition than those used by most institutions that have committed to reducing or eliminating fossil fuel investments.
Direct investments currently account for about 4 percent of the endowment’s value. General equity fund and broad-based market index funds account for about 1 percent of the endowment.
This plan models the kind of environmental leadership and innovative problem solving that we hope our students will take with them in whatever they do as they enter the world beyond Middlebury. More directly, the plan will engage students in educational and research opportunities through course work with faculty mentors, independent projects, internships, and in partnership with Middlebury’s Sustainable Solutions Lab, which will help influence the execution of the plan and its continuing evolution. Middlebury is fortunate to have many talented, curious, and engaged students who love problem solving and care deeply about sustainability. Student work was instrumental in helping Middlebury achieve ambitious past goals, including the development of a biomass gasification plant and reaching carbon neutrality. Energy2028 will present many new ways, both in and out of the classroom, for students to get involved. We see this as one of the most exciting aspects of Energy2028.