February 23, 2011

Big mandate on campus:
Bowdoin becoming carbon neutral

Embracing an initiative by the nation's colleges and universities, Bowdoin takes some bold steps toward its ambitious 2020 goal.

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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John Simoneau, capital projects manager in the facilities department at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, points out an addition to the campus’ steam heating system that recovers heat from the boiler’s exhaust, part of an overall commitment by the school to become carbon neutral by 2020.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Catherine Longley, a Bowdoin administator, shows the Lucid Building Dashboard, an energy monitor that displays the Btus being consumed by the heating system at Thorne Dining Hall on campus.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below


To see Bowdoin College's online energy monitor, visit


"It's an investment in Maine," she said.


Expanded natural gas lines in Brunswick have allowed Bowdoin to tap a cleaner-burning, less-costly fuel. In November, the school replaced a 46-year-old oil-fired boiler at its central steam plant with one that also can burn natural gas. The plant heats 54 buildings totaling 1.3 million square feet.

The conversion will eliminate 797,000 gallons of fuel oil a year, making a big dent in carbon output.

The school will soon add a steam turbine generator to the plant. Electricity made with waste steam will supply 9 percent of the school's needs, and trim greenhouse emissions by 18 percent. This project costs more than $3 million, but is expected to save $230,000 a year.

The steam plant conversion will remove 1,200 tons a year of carbon. But other reductions will come from hundreds of small fixes.

"It's just incremental," Longley said. "You just keep chipping away, project by project."

Small projects include: Changing 3,875 incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent. Setting 600 personal computers to sleep mode. Replacing the school's 61 vehicles with hybrids.

Beyond changing technology, Bowdoin also wants to use its educational mandate to change behavior. To meet the 2020 goal, it says, everyone on campus must share an awareness of carbon neutrality. That means developing energy-saving habits, such as shutting down computers and turning off lights.


One tool to raise awareness is an online dashboard. It displays real-time power consumption at school buildings and compares it to past periods and other buildings and residences.

Energy awareness already is high at College of the Atlantic, an environmental liberal arts school with 350 students. The school was one of the first in the country to sign the carbon neutral commitment, in 2006. It reached the goal a year later. While some schools are installing occupancy sensors that turn off lights in empty rooms, the college relies on student behavior.

"Our students are kind of on automatic when it comes to energy," said Donna Gold, a school spokeswoman.

The college's newest buildings -- 20 percent of the campus -- are super-insulated and use a wood pellet boiler for heat and hot water. A small wind turbine helps provide electricity for a school-run farm.

Carbon emissions are calculated for events including lectures and concerts, and student travel. The college counterbalances these emissions with offsets, including a program that provides electricity at truck stops to keep big rigs from idling their engines.

Getting to net zero is more complicated at a large public school, such as the University of Southern Maine. The school has set 2040 as an outside date to reach climate neutrality.

Heating is the largest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions at USM. This winter, the school greatly reduced the impact by converting central heating plants in Portland and Gorham from oil to natural gas. Gas is less expensive now than oil, and the switch is expected to save $315,000 next year and pay for itself right away. It also will cut carbon emissions by 1,048 tons.

Such numbers may sound abstract to students, who don't directly pay energy bills. But Bowdoin College has found a way to make them more relevant.

On a clear but frigid day last week, the school's online dashboard was tracking the energy output of the solar array on Thorne Hall. Based on heat equivalent shortly before 1 p.m., the panels were generating enough energy to cook 258 hamburgers.


Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:



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Additional Photos

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Daniel Welch, Bowdoin’s maintenance project manager, describes how Thorne Dining Hall’s water is heated by solar panels, one of several energy system upgrades meant to reduce the Brunswick school’s carbon footprint.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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This array of solar units on the roof of Bowdoin College’s Thorne Dining Hall provides about 50 percent of the energy required to heat the water of the dining facility, according to administrator Catherine Longley.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer


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