The Walla Walla Valley provides a plethora of sustainable energy options, as the college is located between major hydropower stations, receives approximately 260 days of sunlight each year, and leases land to a prominent wind farm. Pacific Power, Whitman’s energy provider, is one of the West’s leading utilities and operates a broad portfolio. Wind, hydro, geothermal, and other non-carbon resources compose over 15% of Pacific Power's capacity and it is developing solar power into its mix.
In 2006, the college made a substantial increase in its purchase of Pacific Power’s Blue Sky wind energy–from $3,000 to $20,000 per year. According to an article reporting on the purchase, the clean energy purchased by the college each month during the period of a year provides environmental benefits equivalent to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 2,647 tons, which has the same benefit as not driving a car more than 5.7 million miles. Whitman’s annual purchase of renewable energy equates to the annual electricity usage of about 165 Pacific Power-served homes in Washington. More information can be found here.
BlueSky is PacificPower's renewable energy choice program, where customers opt to purchase a portion or all of their electricity use through renewable energy credits (RECs). PacificPower's RECs were generated through wind turbines in 2012. Because of the complicated nature of power trading markets, it is impossible to tell which power sources any one individual customer receives, so RECs separate the environmental benefits from the power to sell it to concerned customers or for compliance reasons. The purchase of RECs supports invests in renewable energy for the future. RECs are not offsets, which are similar, but instead focus on the sequestration of greenhouse gases. Typical offsets include forest planting or funding emission reductions for industry.
In Fiscal Year 2013, Whitman purchased 1,214,000 kWh of PacificPower's BlueSky and 4,000,000 kWh of from Renewable Choice Energy. This was nearly 50% of Whitman's power consumption that year. Both providers are Green-e Energy Certified by the Center for Resource Solutions. Third party certification is important to be sure the environmental benefits are not double counted.
As of the beginning of 2013, the college leases nearby farmland to NextEra Energy, which has seventy 660 kW turbines on the property. The 166 foot tall towers generate electricity when wind speeds are between 7 and 56 miles per hour and are most efficient at 33 mph. The Vestas turbines are 30-35% efficient and can respond to changes in the wind to maximize efficiency. Whitman leases the land and receives royalties for the electricity generated. The electricity generated is sold by NextEra Energy to the Bonneville Power Administration, contributing to the local grid. More information can be found here.
A 21kW photovoltaic solar array sits atop the Bratton Tennis Center. The panels were installed in 2009 thanks to the efforts of a group of dedicated students, who worked in partnership with Whitman staff to raise the necessary funds, including a $51,750 grant from Pacific Power. The solar panels give the college an educational tool along with future energy savings. They are expected to produce 25,000 kWh annually, enough to sustain over 2.5 average American homes each year. Project manager Jeff Donahue said, “We are projecting a 20 percent reduction in power needed from the power company as a result of the solar panels, and the $3,150 production incentive we receive from the state will offset 54 percent of the building’s power costs annually.”
As of December 2012, 129,731 lbs of carbon dioxide emissions have been avoided, equivalent to the annual emissions produced by 12.3 cars. The college has been reimbursed $5,043 for the energy it has produced and put back into the grid, demonstrating the multiple benefits of distributed renewable energy production. Explore the real-time savings and monitor the solar panel output here.
More information can be found in an article here.
Greenhouse Gas Inventory
Part of the purpose of Campus Sustainability is to track Whitman's progress toward sustainability. The primary measure is to annually audit campus' greenhouse gas emissions. The 2013 Greenhouse Gas Inventory is underway. The most recent report (2011) is available here.
The data provided by yearly updates to plans tracks our progress and permits pursuit of goals, which would be embodied in a Climate Action Plan.