The Near-Term Decarbonization Plan
At a meeting on the campus on October 19, 2019, the trustees declared their support for a $13-million package of major renovations and upgrades to the college’s heating system as well as other energy-saving projects. This was affirmed through further approval to issue bonds to support the project cost at the subsequent meeting, allowing the project to proceed.
Vassar’s current carbon footprint
Vassar emitted about 15,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases (GHG) each year. This is a significant reduction from our baseline year of 2005, when we emitted 30,550 metric tons. Most of the reductions we’ve achieved so far have come from incremental efforts like switching from fuel oil to natural gas for heating, building limited on-site solar, and purchasing greener electricity as the New York State Grid goes more renewable.
Vassar’s Three-Year Partial Decarbonization Plan
In brief, Vassar undertaking a combination of facility upgrades for energy efficiency (including LED lighting), a conversion of our primary central boilers from burning natural gas to burning renewable fuel oil, and a switch to 100 percent renewable purchased electricity. Work on these projects is already underway.
With the plan as endorsed by the trustees, our carbon footprint will fall another 8,150 metric tons per year to roughly 6,850 metric tons. This will leave about half of our emissions as lingering facility-based emissions and half coming from sources like travel and commuting.
Renewable Fuel Oil
The "Renewable Fuel Oil" (or RFO) that Vassar plans to use is a biofuel derived from sawdust and tree trimmings from commercial timber operations. Instead of leaving these byproducts to release their embedded carbon through decomposition, the RFO process is able to convert the byproducts into an alternative to fossil fuels. While these still emit carbon dioxide through combustion, the net carbon footprint is considered significantly lower than alternatives like natural gas.
These byproducts come from trees in commercially managed plots, most of which meet Sustainable Forestry Initiative (or equivalent) standards. No clear-cut logging or other unsustainable logging practices can be used in the production of this fuel, per dictate of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Vassar’s Plans for Carbon Neutrality Moving Forward
Our current plans for decarbonizing our facilities include the phased conversion of buildings to alternative heating technologies like geothermal, air-source, and solar-thermal heating combined with electrified systems using 100 percent renewable energy. These efforts are codified in both the 2020 Climate Action Plan and the Green Building Guidelines and are an integral part of all our efforts moving forward.