Overall Rating Silver - expired
Overall Score 63.76
Liaison Mark Youndt
Submission Date March 10, 2017
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.1

Skidmore College
IN-24: Innovation A

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 1.00 / 1.00 Levi Rogers
Director of Sustainability Programs and Assessment
Sustainability Office
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Name or title of the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome:
Small-Hydro Renewable Energy Project

A brief description of the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome that outlines how credit criteria are met and any positive measurable outcomes associated with the innovation:

Skidmore began exploring small hydro opportunities several years ago as part of our commitment to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and to develop a diversified renewable energy portfolio. Our portfolio already included significant geothermal, solar thermal, and solar photovoltaic installations, and the redevelopment of small hydro facilities in our region sparked our interest. We partnered with Gravity Renewables on the project because of the comprehensive service they could provide (Gravity is an investor-backed owner, operator, and developer of small hydroelectric power plants in the United States) and because of their emphasis on education and the restoration of historical sites.

After looking at several small, low impact dams, our focus quickly became a run-of-river weir, originally built in the early 1800’s, that sat on an existing fault line and waterfall called Chittenden Falls on the Kinderhook Creek in Stockport, NY. Years of inadequate funding, however, threatened the future if the historical dam, and the facility had the potential to soon become both an environmental and social liability for the surrounding area. The facility was close to being decommissioned and hence provided a unique opportunity for Skidmore’s next major investment in renewable energy. Upon signing a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with Gravity Renewables, new investments into the facility brought it back to life. Within months, the facility was operational again.

Gravity Renewables purchased and revitalized the facility while Skidmore minimized the risk for Gravity Renewables by signing an Operating Agreement to purchase the power produced by the facility for twenty years. This project was the first remote net metered hydroelectric project in the nation, and we expect that the Chittenden Falls facility will ultimately meet approximately 18% of Skidmore’s electricity demand.

Because this project was a power purchase agreement, there were relatively few upfront costs for Skidmore. Skidmore’s 20-year agreement to buy power from the small-hydro facility justified Gravity Renewable’s capital investment to make the facility operational again. Maintenance for the small-hydro project will be handled by Skidmore’s partner organization, and, due to favorable remote-net metering regulations, the College anticipates variable annual savings on its electricity bills.

Gravity Renewables has made significant investments into the infrastructure of the hydro facility since acquiring the plant, including refurbishing all three turbines to return it to full capacity. A classroom is being developed at the facility to serve as an academic space for Skidmore students and other visitors, and the larger site continues to be cleaned and restored.

This small hydro project is a rich case study in sustainability in that it simultaneously addresses environmental, economic, and social concerns. From an environmental perspective, the dam at Chittenden Falls sits on a nearly thirty-foot natural abutment and waterfall. The dam is classified as a small, low impact dam by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which means that this structure poses little threat to the surrounding natural and built environments. And, as discussed above, run-of- river small hydro projects, such as this, outperform essentially all other forms of electricity production in terms of life cycle GHG emissions and most other environmental impacts correlate tightly with GHG emissions. Economically, this facility provides important benefits to the Stockport, NY community by contributing to the town’s tax base (both school and property taxes), local employment, and other local spending, and can lead to more predictable electricity pricing for Skidmore. From a social perspective, revitalizing these facilities contributes to the both the aesthetic and vigor of the local community. Too often old industrial sites such as this fall into ruin and become a target for vandalism and a potential safety issue. The Chittenden Falls dam is part of the architectural history of the Hudson Valley, and we discovered, somewhat unexpectedly, a deep intergenerational pride in this facility, not unlike what we see with the family dairy farms that dot the Upstate New York landscape. The restoration of this cultural icon has already been met with much encouragement and gratitude. The work related to the dam has also forged a new community of collaborators including people from Skidmore, Gravity Renewables, and Columbia County. As is the case with our other sustainability projects, this small hydro project is a pedagogical tool that has and will be used in a variety of courses across Skidmore’s campus, hence tapping the exponential power inherent in educational institutions.

Which of the following impact areas does the innovation most closely relate to? (select up to three):
Public Engagement
Air & Climate

A letter of affirmation from an individual with relevant expertise or a press release or publication featuring the innovation :

The website URL where information about the innovation is available :
Additional documentation to support the submission:

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