Community Energy

This paper, necessitated by St. Lawrence’s NYSERDA grant and subsequent energy audit, offers suggestions for ways that St. Lawrence University to decrease its energy usage moving forward. It focuses specifically on opportunities in the area of community energy. By looking at the options available and assessing St. Lawrence and the community’s needs, this report suggests that the University installs more single, poly, or semi crystalline photovoltaic arrays, works with Dandelion to convert some buildings to geoexchange heating and cooling, sponsors an Energy Open House, and performs solar and efficiency audits for community members. This is of the utmost importance, because climate change demands that all actors work to reduce their footprint.

Community Energy For St. Lawrence University

By: Ms. Lucy Hochschartner

Executive Summary

This section reviews the context of the report, explaining that St. Lawrence University received a grant through NYSERDA to undergo an energy audit with the goal of proposing a plan for the future. The threat of climate change is also examined to establish the need for change at St. Lawrence and in the community.

Types of Community Energy
Many types of community energy are examined for their pros and cons. It is then proposed that St. Lawrence focus on selling to the grid and providing technical/educational/administrative support to the community.

Types of Renewable Energy
In this section, different renewable energy sources are compared. Due to the environmental benefit and feasibility, solar energy and geothermal are found to be good options for St. Lawrence.

Proposal: Transforming St. Lawrence and the Community
The proposal is outlined. In short, it emphasizes increasing the deployment of photovoltaic panels on campus, converting some buildings to geoexchange heating and cooling, sponsoring an Energy Open House, and auditing homes in the Canton community to give residents a sense of the ways in which case they can reduce their carbon footprint and save money.

This section summarizes the previous sections, reiterates the need for St. Lawrence to act now, and then proposes future actions. In the future, St. Lawrence could become an advocate for sustainable economic renewal in Canton.



In 2017, St. Lawrence received a grant through the New York State Energy and Development Research Authority’s (NYSERDA) REV Campus Challenge Technical Assistance for Roadmaps program to undergo an energy audit (by the consulting firm Wendel) and move forward with proposing a plan for the future (St. Lawrence University n.d.). In light of that, this report will propose a path that St. Lawrence can follow to combat climate change, decrease their reliance on fossil fuels, and help the community do the same.

Climate change is a pressing issue for all the peoples of the world. With less predictable, more intense weather and increased temperatures, it will negatively affect plants, animals, and human society. Climate change is caused by a build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are released in the combustion of fossil fuels, and as such, St. Lawrence should do their part to minimize the use of these energy sources. At the same time, this is a global problem and St. Lawrence decreasing their carbon footprint will have a negligible effect.

With that in mind, it is imperative that St. Lawrence seeks to have a broader effect in combatting this dangerous issue. One way it can do this is by involving the community. Thus, I propose that the University work install more photovoltaic panels and work with Dandelion to support geothermal heating on campus and beyond. The University should also sponsor an Energy Open House once a year for folks in the community to come to campus, see the initiatives St. Lawrence has taken, learn from students and professors about the technology benefits, and how they can make changes in their own households. To show this, I will first review types of community energy followed by types of renewable energy.

Types of Community Energy

There are many ways that communities can become involved in energy projects together. According to Pahl, “Local energy projects rely on locally available renewable energy resources that serve local needs,” (37). Expanding this to be about community and not just locality, this report will only focus on projects that directly affect the community (excluding privately owned and consumed energy). Thus, using Pahl’s definition with a slight modification, community energy includes: community investment, co-operative energy, transactional energy, selling to the grid, or community-owned microgrids (Berka & Creamer 2018; LO3 Energy 2017; US Department of Energy 2014). Further, under this definition, community involvement can be taken in a different direction, as well. Colleges especially can focus on support and education rather than energy projects. For instance, College of the Atlantic has an entire center devoted to sustainability collaborations between the college and broader community (College of the Atlantic n.d.).

The ideal approach for St. Lawrence in relation to community energy is selling to the grid and providing technical, educational, and administrative support (like College of the Atlantic). Community investment would not work well for the area, because there is not enough social capital or initiative to get a group of investors together. Also, St. Lawrence as one of the more affluent organizations in the area would likely have to front much of the money. Transactional energy, where citizens sell directly to each other in an open marketplace could be a great option, but the technology is still in the development phase. Community microgrids (grids that have the ability to work independently from the main grid) could enhance the resiliency of a system; however, then would again be more of an undertaking than is really feasible for the university to spearhead (US Department of Energy 2014).

Types of Renewable Energy

It is also important to consider the different types of renewables that are available for use with community energy strategies. There are nuclear, biofuel, hydrogen cell, geothermal, wind, hydro, and solar technologies (Pahl 2012). While nuclear may seem promising, it does not scale down to the community level and produces radioactive waste (Pahl 2012). Biofuels, while renewable, still generate carbon emissions (many are offset by the plants that replace the ones being burned; however, other renewables could help more) (Pahl 2012). Hydrogen cells do not produce more electricity than it takes to extract the hydrogen from a source, so they are not efficient (Pahl 2012). Wind, hydro, and solar are often thought of as the typical renewables. However, hydro can disrupt river ecology. Pahl mentions that very small run-of-the-river hydro systems have little impact, but they still would require the university to invest in more complex infrastructure (2012). Similarly, wind is a resource that is likely beyond the University’s current means and ambitions (R. Kmetz, personal communication, March 30, 2018). Thus, geothermal and solar remain. While geothermal is typically thought of in relation to fault lines and geologically active zones, geoexchange is available anywhere and is the cleanest way to heat and cool a structure (Pahl 2012). Solar is viable, because it is relatively simple to get approved and installed and is available everywhere (Pahl 2012).

Transforming St. Lawrence University and the Community

Photovoltaic (PV) Panels

Solar is a good option for the St. Lawrence community, because it is relatively simple to permit and install (Pahl 2002). While maybe not the best or most ambitious idea, it would be simple, effective, and feasible for the University. Also, despite living in an area that seems less conducive to solar, solar panels can actually work in light snow, and heavy snow tends to melt or slide off, and when it does, it cleans the panels, making them more efficient (Gay 2017). Also, David Orr, an author, former professor at Oberlin College and Conservatory, and the brain behind the Oberlin Project, a community development project in Oberlin, OH focused on economic renewal and sustainability, found that solar worked well both in terms of cutting costs and generating power in Oberlin, even though it is relatively far North (D. Orr, personal communication, April 2, 2018). Also, Clarkson currently gets a significant portion of its power from an off campus solar array (Community Energy Solar n.d.). Furthermore, this is not new territory for the university, as it already makes use of solar power at the Sustainability farm (St. Lawrence University 2014). Thus, solar is viable and has precedent. Lastly, St. Lawrence has committed to carbon neutrality by 2040, and there is still a long way for the university to go (The Conservation Council Working Group n.d.). While the action plan specifies that behavioral change and building efficiency are priorities, this will not be sufficient to reach the school’s goal, so they should pursue renewable energy strategies such as this (The Conservation Council Working Group n.d.).St. Lawrence should install more grid-integrated, ground-mounted photovoltaics in order to decrease its reliance on fossil-fuel dependent electricity and sell to the grid.

By being grid-integrated, the university would be able to get money from any excess power that could be injected back to the grid, batteries would not be needed for energy storage for times that the sun is not shining (like at night), and it would be an insurance that there would always be electricity (barring grid failure) (NYSERDA 2017). These installations should be ground-mounted, because that is the cheapest option (de Wild-Scholten, Alsema, ter Horst, Bächler, Fthenakis 2006). On the other hand, this is the option that also has the greatest environmental impact (compared with in-roof and rooftop) (de Wild-Scholten, Alsema, ter Horst, Bächler, Fthenakis 2006). However, they are not much worse environmentally than rooftop mounting (de Wild-Scholten, Alsema, ter Horst, Bächler, Fthenakis 2006). The most environmentally friendly option would be in-roof mounting, but that would require a costly retrofit (de Wild-Scholten, Alsema, ter Horst, Bächler, Fthenakis 2006).

In terms of the type of photovoltaic, there are many. Single crystalline silicon is one of the most popular and efficient types around; however, it takes a lot of material to make and is thus quite expensive (Patel 2006). This could be a good option despite the price. Efficiency will be key to getting good return on investment, especially in an area with little sun like this one. Other possibilities would be poly or semi crystalline silicon which are cheaper but less efficient (Patel 2006). Multijunction or concentrated solar can increase efficiency but are likely out of reach for the university (Patel 2006). Thin-film and amorphous silicon are very cheap options but are not very efficient (Patel 2006). Finally, spheral cell construction is largely still in development (Patel 2006). Thus, single, poly, or semi crystalline cells are the only type of photovoltaic panels that the school should seriously consider. Also, different types of tracking mechanisms could help increase the power generation capacity (Marsh 2018). There are single axis trackers that rotate the panels to follow the sun throughout the day and dual axis trackers that do this as well as following the sun throughout the year (Marsh 2018). These would be especially helpful in a high latitude area like the North Country; however, they are more expensive (Marsh 2018). Thus, it will come down to a comparison of contracts. The major downside of these trackers are the increased maintenance; however, this would be taken care of by a contractor under a power purchase agreement (Marsh 2018).

In terms of construction and financing, a power purchase agreement would be the best option for St. Lawrence. David Orr mentioned that no college is really in the position to be their own power company, and Ryan Kmetz agrees that this would be a good option (D. Orr, personal communication, April 2, 2018; R. Kmetz, personal communication, April 3, 2018). Also, solar power purchase agreements would allow the upfront cost to be lower, and the school would not be in charge of maintaining the panels [US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 2017]. However, the school would want to be sure to maintain control of the renewable energy credits, in order to ensure that the electricity being used was not just offsetting another entity’s emissions (US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 2017; R. Kmetz, personal communication, April 3, 2018]. This would ensure that it has the greatest climate change mitigation effect. Also, the University might have the option to buy the panels at the end of the agreement at a greatly reduced cost, depending on the contract (R. Kmetz, personal communication, April 3, 2018). New York State also offers many incentives and financing schemes that could be used to help lower costs (NYSERDA n.d.).

The implementation goes along with Wendel’s suggestions for St. Lawrence (2018). The best area for these panels would be the field by the Saddlemire trail, as it has road access, no shading, is flat, is unused, and has the capacity to generate a large amount of electricity. Covering the whole field, while not feasible, could generate approximately 14,500,000 kWh/year (according to NREL’s PVWattts calculator). This is a much larger instillation than Wendel envisioned, and is likely unnecessary but shows the site’s potential (Wendel 2018). It is also worth remembering that it is always easy to expand and acquire more solar panels later on. It could be done in steps in order to be more viable.


Heating is the largest energy use at St. Lawrence when measured by both end use and cost (Wendel 2017). Thus, it is important for the university to find ways to make its heating sources more environmentally friendly. The university has pledged to decrease carbon emissions, so it is paramount that they start to act (The Conservation Council Working Group n.d.).

Dandelion is a company that installs geoexchange systems in individual homes within serviced communities. They take single-family homes with forced air heating and convert them (K. Hannun, personal communication, March 30, 2018). They can reportedly install the geoexchange systems much cheaper than comparable companies (R. Kmetz, personal communication, March 30, 2018). With a 30% tax reduction, Dandelion costs roughly 17,500 dollars per single-family home (K. Hannun, personal communication, March 30, 2018). Although St. Lawrence as a non-profit would not benefit from the tax reduction, many homes in the community could. Furthermore, there are other funding options that St. Lawrence could look into. For instance, NYSERDA has funding available for both colleges and individuals to convert to geothermal (New York State Government 2017). Also, this would be a relatively quick and easy process. Usually, it only takes Dandelion four days to convert a home, two on the inside and two on the outside (K. Hannun, personal communication, March 30, 2018). So, this would not be a huge project that would inconvenience the community and the university for a long time. Dandelion would take care of it.

If St. Lawrence wanted to pursue this, it would offer an incredible opportunity for people in the broader Canton community to take advantage of geothermal heat. These homes, as they are in a similar climate, also likely have large energy requirements related to heating. While geoexchange’s upfront cost is very large, the grants could help to defray it. Furthermore, because Dandelion only works in areas, not on individual homes, St. Lawrence University could be the catalyst to help entice Dandelion to work in the Canton community (Dandelion Energy 2017). St. Lawrence would be doing the community a huge service and giving residents a great opportunity.

Community Development

While working with Dandelion would be an opportunity for the community, it is still imperative for St. Lawrence to work directly with the community. This is necessary to expand the impact of St. Lawrence’s actions. With a global problem like climate change, this is truly necessary. Furthermore, St. Lawrence, as a privileged institution of higher learning, has the obligation to give back. Also, colleges should never miss an opportunity to establish goodwill in their communities due to the “town-gown” relationship that has a tendency to breed resent and misgiving. Orr specifically mentions that all efforts should be made to “build friends” throughout projects like this (D. Orr, personal communication, April 2, 2018). If none of these reasons serve to call the University to action, it is also worth noting that it would offer a great way for St. Lawrence to market itself and bolster its image as a moral and environmental college, not to mention it could offer great learning opportunities for students. For example, College of the Atlantic furthers their students learning by having them perform solar audits for homes in the community (A. Russell, personal communication, March 9, 2018). Russell wrote, “The CEC [College of the Atlantic’s Community Energy Center] was designed to further the reach of student work,” (A. Russell, personal communication, March 9, 2018). Clearly, there is educational potential in helping the community. With this in mind, I offer specific measures that St. Lawrence can take to make a difference:

  • Have an “Energy Open House”
  • Perform solar audits in the community
  • Perform efficiency audits in the community

An Energy Open House would allow both St. Lawrence students and community members to become better acquainted with the facilities here at St. Lawrence. I have learned much more about St. Lawrence’s energy infrastructure through this internship, and my sense is that many other students have no idea of the measures that already exist on campus. Guided tours of St. Lawrence’s sustainability measures, both in terms of efficiency and alternative energy sources, could help to inspire students and the broader community to make changes. Ryan Kmetz and the interns such as myself could present on what we have learned. Furthermore, professors and students could hold talks and information sessions on any relevant research they are doing. Another key component would be bringing in community sustainability leaders, people from the village Sustainability Committee or those who have made changes to their homes, to speak as well. Also, alternative energy businesses could bring in representatives to talk to about their products and the tax credits and funding available through the government. All in all, this would be a day for sharing knowledge and building community ties, but special care would need to be taken to be sure that it was inclusive and not patronizing. This would be done by inviting community members to teach as well. Students would be able to practice their presenting skills, and it would be a great opportunity for everyone to make relationships.

Performing various audits would be a personalized (and thus valuable) way for St. Lawrence students to impact the community. Furthermore, it would teach St. Lawrence students a marketable skill. This is in not without precedent. As mentioned previously, College of the Atlantic students perform solar audits for homes, and these students even help to train other students to do it as well (A. Russell, personal communication, March 9, 2018). This seems like a great way for St. Lawrence students to volunteer in the community. Furthermore, students learning about various efficiency tactics in the home could perform similar types of audits to suggest ways that community members could decrease their energy usage. Not only is this good for the environment, but community members would likely approve, because they could lower their electricity and heating bills. This would build relationships, give students practical experience, and benefit community members.


The grant that St. Lawrence received through NYSERDA, the information we are gaining from the audit, and the proposals from myself and the other interns offer the University a unique opportunity to begin a wave of environmental action. Hopefully, the school takes advantage.

It is imperative that the University does not turn in on itself and just make a low carbon footprint island in the midst of others that continue to pollute. That does not really help combat climate change. Instead, the University should start to address its own energy needs with photovoltaic panels and geoexchange and then help the community address theirs, by having an Energy Open House and performing energy audits in the community. In this way, St. Lawrence can further their reputation as a sustainable school, students can learn more about sustainability and practical skills, the community can have support in search of sustainability, and most importantly, both St. Lawrence and Canton community members can interact, share experience and knowledge, and practice respect.

In the future, St. Lawrence could also advocate for further action. Although beyond the scope of this project, the Oberlin Project offers an inspiring example of a community, college, and city coming together to achieve sustainability and development goals (D. Orr, personal communication, April 2, 2018). Oberlin College and Conservatory is submitting a plan to move forward with sustainability measures to their board, the city of Oberlin gets 85% of its electricity from renewable sources, a new hotel was built in downtown, an 11-acre solar array was constructed, the arts’ museum and movie theater were renovated, almost 50 homes were solarized, and there was a local food revolution (D. Orr, personal communication, April 2, 2018). The college did not pay for this, because David Orr raised around 20 million dollars over eight years to assist with the financing (D. Orr, personal communication, April 2, 2018). A movement like this could revitalize the Canton community and economy in addition to bringing people to the college. With so many colleges in the area, there are many possible partners. More than anything, the Oberlin Project shows what is possible with vision and collaboration. Financing is available, and this is not only possible for rich areas. The proposal outlined in this report represents various actions with varying levels of difficulty that St. Lawrence could adopt for organizational and community benefit. I implore the University to think deeply about adopting them, and most importantly, to continue thinking deeply in the future about the type of community they would like to become.


Berka, A. L., & Creamer, E. (2018). Taking stock of the local impacts of community owned renewable energy: A review and research agenda. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 82(3), 3400-3419.

College of the Atlantic. (n.d.). About us.  Retrieved from

Community Energy Solar. (n.d.). Clarkson solar. Retrieved from

Dandelion Energy. (2017). Dandelion. Retrieved from

de Wild-Scholten, M.J., Alsema, E.A., ter Horst, E.W., Bächler, M., & Fthenakis, V.M. (2006). A cost and environmental impact comparison of grid-connected rooftop and ground-based PV systems. 21st European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference, Dresden, Germany. Retrieved from

Gay, C. (2017, January 7). Let it snow: How solar panels can thrive in winter weather. Retrieved from

LO3 Energy. (2017). Exergy. Retrieved from

Marsh, J. (2018, January 19). Solar trackers: Everything you need to know. Retrieved from

New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. (n.d.) Incentives and financing. Retrieved from

New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. (2017, October 13). Summary of value of distributed energy resources. Retrieved from

New York State Government. (2017, May 30). NYSERDA launches $15 million initiative to spur ground source heat pump market to help combat climate change. Retrieved from

Pahl, G. (2012). Power from the people: How to organize, finance, and launch local energy projects. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Patel, M.R. (2006). Wind and solar power systems: Design, analysis, and operation (2nd ed.)Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis Group.

Romm, J. (2018, March 18). Stunning drops in wind, solar prices mean economic case for coal, gas is ‘crumbling’. ThinkProgress. Retrieved from

St. Lawrence University. (2014, May 20). Students install solar electricity at Sustainability Semester. Retrieved from

St. Lawrence University. (2017, September 13). St. Lawrence receives funding award for energy plan. Retrieved from

The Conservation Council Working Group for Planning for Carbon Neutrality in Response to the President’s Climate Commitment. (n.d.). St. Lawrence University climate action plan. Retrieved from

US Department of Energy. (2014, June 17). How microgrids work. Retrieved from

US Environmental Protection Agency. (2017, November 2017). Solar Power Purchase Agreements. Retrieved from

Wendel. (2017). Interim deliverable St. Lawrence University.