success stories

Another Success Story in Ecology
and Stewardship of the Earth's Resources

Catholic University commits to getting 12 percent of power from wind

By Willy Thorn
Catholic News Service

The Catholic University of America, traditionally home to long and powerful professorial gusts, will soon have some of its energy needs met by wind.

For the next five years, 12 percent of Catholic University's energy -- the largest such commitment to wind power by a university in the nation -- will come from a $1.5 million, 220-foot-tall windmill. To spread the word, the university set up an exhibit, complete with scale-model windmills, Aug. 22 during the 2002-03 school year orientation.

"Oh, wow," said one student who approached the table. "Where's it going to be placed on campus?"

A few miles off campus, actually -- in West Virginia.

The wind turbine is one of 44 being built at the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center near Thomas, W.Va., by FPL Energy, the self-proclaimed national leader in wind energy generation.

It will be the largest wind power project on the eastern seaboard, with turbines capable of producing enough energy to power 22,000 homes. To produce that output through conventional generation, some 200 million pounds of carbon dioxide would be emitted annually, the equivalent of 14,000 cars on the road.

The university is purchasing about 4 million kilowatt hours (enough to power 400 homes) of wind-produced energy for the 144-acre campus. The resulting emissions reduction is equal to taking 329 cars off the road annually.

Washington Gas Energy Services arranged Catholic University's $72,000 annual supply with Community Energy Inc. of Wayne, Pa., which has a marketing agreement with Exelon Power Team, the owner of electrical output from the center, slated for completion in December.

Wind power is actually more expensive -- somewhere between 1 and 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour -- than conventional means of energy production, like burning coal. But because the university is only getting a percentage of its energy needs from wind, the difference is only "dollars per month," according to John Halley, the sales director for Community Energy.

"Where we could've reduced the budget," said Carl Petchik, executive director of facilities operations for Catholic University, "we chose to keep our budget flat and reinvest it in ... responsible environmental stewardship."

Academic provost John Convey said the arrangement is an opportunity to show students a happy marriage of academia and practicality.

"We have a center for the study of the environment here on campus," he said, "and ... we feel that we're good role models here in demonstrating to the students how you can take something -- technology -- and use it to improve the environment. That's part of the total package we're trying to promote."

"It's good for the environment," said Catholic University's president, Vincentian Father David M. O'Connell. "And something that's good for the environment is consistent with our mission as a Catholic university. It makes a lot of sense for us."

Halley said that, although there are some small businesses and government organizations that use 100 percent wind power, Catholic University has the highest percentage for an institution of its size and type. It's also the first school in the region to establish such a connection.

"Georgetown (University) didn't have it. George Washington (University) didn't have it," Father O'Connell, mentioning two other District of Columbia universities, proudly told a student viewing the exhibit.

"We're very excited and proud to be the first university in the region to establish this kind of connection," he told Catholic News Service in an interview.

"They're raising the bar among colleges and universities," Halley said, "and they're really helping us launch a (wind power) campaign in the D.C. area among all our customers: residential, small businesses, etc."

The university, which the National Wildlife Federation rated especially "green" in a 2001 nationwide Campus Environmental Report Card, also drew accolades from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"Catholic University's really been a leader in this market," said Matt Clouse, program manager for the EPA's Green Party Partnership, to which Catholic University belongs, "and we look forward to touting what they've done to everybody else."