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Greenhouse Gas Emissions Report

The built environment at the medical school’s main Worcester campus has grown significantly since 2003, but the greenhouse gas emissions from powering the campus has dropped.

In January the medical school reported greenhouse gas emissions data for the Worcester campus to the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment program. The university as a whole signed on to the ACUPCC in 2007, embracing the national group’s  ambitious  sustainability goals.

The new report tracks emissions from fossil fuels burned by the campus power plant, the school’s vehicle fleet, staff automobile commuting trips and emissions attributed to off-site electricity the school purchased from the regional power grid.

For calendar year 2014, the school reported 93,537 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions for powering the campus. That total was down slightly from 95,722 metric tons of CO2e in 2013 and from 97,869 metric tons in the study’s baseline year of 2003.

The true scope of the greenhouse gas trend is striking, however, when examined on a per-square-foot basis. In 2003, the Worcester campus had approximately 2.2 million square feet of building space. By 2014, after the addition of the Ambulatory Care Center, the Lakeside Expansion to the medical center, construction of the Albert Sherman Center and other expansion projects, the total campus built area had grown to 3.3 million square feet.

So the emissions per-square-foot of building space dropped from .045 metric tons of CO2e in 2003 to .028 metric tons last year. In other words, while the amount of space that needs to be lit, powered, heated and cooled grew by 50 percent, the greenhouse gas emissions per-square-foot dropped by 38 percent.

“Given the growth of building area on campus, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is a nice success,” said John Baker, associate vice chancellor for facilities and management at UMass Chan. “It shows the results of the long-term planning and investments the university has made.”

Suzanne Wood, , sustainability and energy manager at UMass Chan, said the emissions reduction was accomplished by constructing new buildings that are highly efficient, a significant upgrade to the campus co-generation plant, retrofitting the older buildings on campus with more energy efficient mechanical systems and replacing older lighting fixtures.

Completed in 2012, the power plant upgrade included installation of a high-efficiency, 7.5-megawatt, gas-fired combustion turbine and an associated heat recovery system that boosted the medical school’s capacity to generate electricity on campus.

The new gas turbine replaced one of the plant’s original gas and oil-fired steam boilers, which was taken off-line and kept in reserve as an emergency back-up.  (In 2003, the plant burned nearly 3 million gallons of oil. In 2014 oil consumption plummeted to just 45,000 gallons.)

Since natural gas burns more cleanly than oil, and the new jet turbine is highly efficient, the expanded power plant has lower greenhouse gas emissions, despite its added energy capacity.

Furthermore, producing electricity on-site is approximately 30-percent more efficient than using electricity from the regional distribution network, due to the losses that occur when electricity travels long distances on distribution lines.

“The next big area for us to focus on is commuter traffic to campus,” said Wood.

In 2014, the school reported 35,902 metric tons of CO2e from vehicles that students, faculty and staff use to commute to and from campus each day.  Accurate baseline commuter emissions data is not available for 2003, but Wood speculates there has not been a significant change.

 “We have good commuting data now because of the ridership surveys we do each year, and I think we all realize that most people still drive to campus alone,” Wood said.

Wood said the school will continue to focus on building energy efficiency projects, but the biggest potential future impact on emissions would come from more people using public transportation or carpooling to campus.