The Green Team
Innovation, expertise, energized students--UNH is harnessing all its resources to generate a new kind of power to the people

It's the fires that give it away. The cluster of rolling green hills in Rochester, just visible from Route 125, are actually three giant piles of garbage—more than a million tons come to rest here each year. And down at the bottom of each hill, two candle flares burn steadily. The flames are fueled by methane, a byproduct of decomposing garbage—and a greenhouse gas. Waste Management Inc., the company that runs the landfill project, burns the gas before it hits the atmosphere where it can do damage.

But some forward thinkers at UNH have an even better idea. They want to transform the landfill gas into energy. According to Paul Chamberlin, assistant vice president for energy and campus development, piping methane from the landfill to the university could eventually provide up to 85 percent of UNH's energy needs.

PEDAL POWER: Oyster River Middle School students, from left, Emily Healy, Leah Janelle and Emma True find out how much energy is required to light fluorescent vs. incandescent bulbs at an exhibit about energy at the UNH Museum in Dimond Library.

The project still faces several hurdles before it becomes a reality-like a $40 million price tag and the construction of a 12.5-mile pipeline. The USNH Board of Trustees has given conceptual approval to the project; final approval is pending. But the future looks promising, based on the success of other gas-to-energy initiatives: Waste Management is providing methane from other landfills across the country to Fortune 500 companies like Nestlé, BMW and GM. In the long run, these companies save money-and do something good for the environment.

The idea that you no longer have to choose between the economy and the environment is the driving force behind many of the "greening" projects underway at UNH, according to Tom Kelly, director of UNH's Office of Sustainability. The university's new electric and steam-generating "co-gen" plant is perhaps the most dramatic proof of this theory. The state-of-the-art facility, which came online last summer, has dramatically reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides and carbon dioxide. The plant is also expected to save the university $30 to $40 million over the next 20 years, a welcome respite from the ever-rising cost-$12.5 million this year-of heat and electricity. Add the new pipeline to this equation, and UNH is likely to be largely energy independent in just a few years.

The co-gen plant and the pipeline project are just two chapters in what is emerging as a nationally recognized success story here at UNH. The university is already in the top 5 percent of energy-efficient campuses nationwide. "When EPA officials talk to energy managers at colleges and universities across New England, they point to UNH as an example of what can be done and how to do it," says Robert Varney '77, regional administrator of the EPA's New England office.

But technology and innovation alone do not make for energy-saving success. It takes community awareness, education and communication. In short, it takes people power-something that's been gaining momentum lately on campus. Discussions and activities related to energy are being integrated into the curriculum as the theme of this year's University Dialogue. Students study energy in depth in majors like environmental engineering, environmental education or environmental conservation. On the research side, scientists in chemical engineering and physics are exploring biodiesel and renewable energy systems.

This fall, UNH students issued their own challenge: to switch off, swap out, close up, unplug-and see which dorm could save the most compared to its own past use. Inspired by a "power down" initiative over the 2005 holidays, which saved an estimated $20,000, the Waste Watch Challenge was led by energy captains-one for each dorm-sporting T-shirts and pins to prove they were on the job and proud of it.

The winner of the challenge, Hubbard Hall, reduced its energy consumption by almost 30 percent and water usage by 8 percent, and won $300 for its dorm fund and a homemade trophy to show off. Then they used some of the money from the energy savings for a pizza party, T-shirts and environmental causes of their choosing. Overall, the contest saved $18,000 in energy and water costs; the students plan to repeat it in the spring. The challenge was designed to engage students in sustainability efforts, according to Sara Cleaves, associate director at the Office of Sustainability. Along with Matthew O'Keefe '97 at the Energy Office, Cleaves coordinates the UNH Energy Task Force, formed in 2005 to promote a campuswide effort to reduce energy costs and emissions at UNH.

The long-term goal among all these groups is to get the whole UNH community working together: thinking about saving money and saving the planet, thinking about their own lives and how they can make a difference. Their goal, in the end, is to build a sort of university Green Team-one that generates a new kind of "power to the people."

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