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Bard College Project Wins NYS Clean Energy Competition

hydropower dam

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced this week that the state is awarding $1 million each to three colleges whose student-led teams won a competition to develop clean energy projects. As Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne reports, one of the winning teams is from Bard College in Dutchess County.

Annandale-on-Hudson-based Bard College will use its million dollars from the “Energy to Lead Competition” for a “Micro Hydro for Macro Impact” project. Laurie Husted is sustainability manager of the Bard Office of Sustainability. She says the timing was right, as the competition was announced just after Bard had completed its purchase of Montgomery Place, which added not only 380 acres to campus, but two dams along the Sawkill Creek. Husted and others started thinking about whether micro hydropower, defined as less than 100 kilowatts, could work at these dams, and beyond.

“There are 6,700 of these non-powered dams across New York state. And we feel that we will find a good place for micro hydropower at some of them, and maybe it will be on campus and maybe it will be somewhere else,” says Husted. “But this is a big deal for New York to figure out how to handle these dams that are getting older and maybe falling apart.”

The $3 million competition is part of Governor Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision strategy and was administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. It challenged schools to develop ideas for innovative projects in energy efficiency, renewable energy or greenhouse gas emission reduction on campus, in the classroom and in surrounding communities. Here’s Husted.

“We didn’t see this as maybe just putting a little project in at Bard; we saw it as an opportunity to look at it statewide and look at something in a new way and sort of a more sustainable way,” Husted says.

The project also includes the launch of an online public information resource called “NY Micro Hydro,” to help others install similar projects throughout the state. Jason Chang, who is finishing his sophomore year, is one of six students on the team.

“The best thing that could possibly happen is not things that happen in your lifetime, it’s the things that happen in the next generation, things that you started turning into something absolutely amazing,” Chang says. “And that’s something I’m really excited to be a part of.”

Chang says he has been speaking with his robotics professor about focusing his senior project on the micro hydropower endeavor.

“How can we make sure that we optimize these dams to work perfectly, for example, when controlling the angle of these hydroelectric dams so when the water flow is not that high, you could increase the angle of the dam, the hydroelectric, the blades,” says Chang. “If it’s flowing too quickly, we’re planning a sort of algorithm which will determine at which angle to decrease it so that it won’t actually damage the blades.”

Again, Husted.

“You work away in the trenches to chip away at a college’s carbon footprint and then the chance comes along to make a difference for the whole state,” Husted says. “And really, these dams are all over the country so it gets pretty exciting to think how far this might go.”

Husted says Bard aims to reach carbon neutrality by 2035. And micro hydropower could contribute to this goal.

“If, the big if, we’re able to put micro hydropower on the Sawkill, it looks like about  2.5 percent-to-3 percent of our power could be generated there,” Husted says.

SUNY Broome Community College also won the competition and President Dr. Kevin Drumm says the money is for a geothermal learning laboratory.

“Primarily it will be used to provide geothermal heating and cooling for the renovation of one of our oldest buildings on campus, which is our mechanical engineering building,” says Drumm. “That’s one or our original buildings on campus from the early- to mid-1950s so it’s horribly energy inefficient with drafty windows and window air conditioners hanging out of windows all over the place and that sort of thing.”  

And he describes the application beyond heating and cooling the building.

“We will be building in the academic application to mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, geology, environmental science and our entrepreneurship program because part of the grant will go to support a green sandbox, if you will, for folks to brainstorm ideas for green energy businesses in the future to dovetail with out student incubator which will be opening next spring downtown in concert with Binghamton University,” Drumm says.

He expects the building’s renovation to be complete by fall 2018. The third winner is the University at Buffalo’s “Localizing Buffalo’s Renewable Energy Future.” In partnership with the city of Buffalo and several not-for-profit and educational partners, the project’s goal is to install 100 megawatts of solar power throughout the city and college and university campuses. The project also will provide students with research and workforce training opportunities. Collectively, the three winning college projects will mean the equivalent of taking 17,000 cars off the road each year in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.  

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