Winds of Change

Harvard’s recent commitment to wind power furthers its green promise

As the skies turn gray for winter, Harvard’s colors are only getting greener. Continuing a promising pattern of leading higher education in sustainability, Harvard signed a 15-year deal this week that will ensure that 10 percent of the energy needs for its Cambridge and Allston buildings will be provided by wind power from the New England-based company First Wind. Not only does this decision reflect Harvard’s commitment to reducing its impact on the environment—making it the fourth-largest consumer of green power for U.S. colleges—it also sets an example for institutions of Harvard’s size, encouraging them to take risks and serve as the initial buyers of green technology.

The purchase of 50 percent of the power from First Wind’s Stetson II farm near Danforth, Maine (scheduled to be fully operating by mid-2010), will add to Harvard’s greening efforts, which already include wind turbines on top of the Holyoke Center and Soldiers Field parking lot, along with new 500-kilowatt solar panels nearly two and a half football fields in length that will be put on a Harvard-owned building in Watertown, Mass. Even amidst budget cuts and endowment losses, Harvard’s continued commitment to lowering its greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 percent by 2016 provides tangible proof of the university’s belief in reducing its impact on the environment.

Harvard has taken a comprehensive approach to wind power by purchasing not only the power from the soon-to-be-built farm (which comes at market and often cheaper than market prices), but also the renewable energy credits for that energy. RECs can be sold separately from the power itself to companies looking for environmental investments. Harvard has wisely acquired the RECs that are coming with their newly bought power, allowing them to profit from the wind farm in which they will be investing. Harvard has also wielded its economic power and sheer size to effect change in the green industry by providing enough funds to move the Stetson II wind farm from blueprints into reality. A representative from the university’s Public Affairs and Communications office said that Harvard’s 15-year agreement assured First Wind that it would have enough clients to go through with the construction of the farm.

Setting aggressive targets for 2016 was a bold public move by the university, but succeeding in reaching those goals will be as publicly lauded. With the economy in flux and budget cuts everywhere, Harvard has shown its true colors by executing projects that will reduce its environmental impact, ensuring that it will be a green winter.