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Jacqueline Johnson

UMM chancellor Jacquie Johnson testifying before Congress on April 3.

UMM chancellor speaks to Congress

Chancellor Jacquie Johnson addressed reducing greenhouse gas emissions on U.S. college and university campuses

April 4, 2008

University of Minnesota, Morris leads the field among all U campuses, and most campuses nationwide, when it comes to energy self-sufficiency. Its goal of becoming carbon neutral and getting entirely off the grid by 2010 comes closer to reality with each new biomass plant, wind turbine, and Clean Renewable Energy Bond.

Because of her commitment to this effort, Morris chancellor Jacquie Johnson was one of three educators to speak in Washington at a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on the importance of college and university research on clean energy and the activities of college students in fighting greenhouse gases. Chaired by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the April 3 hearing also included Richard Levin, president of Yale University, and Robert Birgeneau, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley.

"We don't have deep pockets or abundant resources--just imagination, vision, and resolve. Moreover, we are spending close to home; we are re-investing dollars in rural America."

"Colleges and universities are given a unique role in society,'' Klobuchar said. "They are conducting vital research on energy technology and educating the next generation of engineers, architects, business leaders and scientists to compete in a low-carbon economy.'' Klobuchar is author of the American Renewable Energy Act, which would extend and expand federal tax incentives for investments in renewable energy sources such as wind power, solar energy, and cellulosic alcohol, and establish a strong national renewable-energy standard.

Currently at Morris, a wind turbine powers 50 percent of campus buildings. And, scheduled for its first "burn" in May, a biomass/gasification plant on campus will consume locally procured feed stocks--principally, corn stover (stalks, leaves, cobs) and mixed prairie grasses--essentially replacing Morris's natural gas supply and dependency.

"In addition to providing a minimum of 80 percent of campus heating needs, we anticipate that this plant will put approximately half a million dollars back into the local economy annually," said Johnson at the hearing. "Thus, instead of sending dollars out of state to purchase natural gas, we will deposit these resources into the pockets of area citizens."

Johnson went on to explain that Morris will add a turbine designed to use the steam from the gasification system to produce electricity for the campus "on those days when the wind isn't blowing" and "[provide] a redundant source of electrical power that goes back onto the grid on those windy days that are the hallmark of the prairie." This same "green" steam that provides heat for the campus in the winter will connect to an absorption chiller in the summer to cool the buildings, Johnson said.

A second wind turbine, which will become operational next spring, will provide the remainder of Morris's electrical needs.

"Our students have been and are at the forefront of our green initiatives," said Johnson. "They work directly with Morris faculty.... They present nationally at conferences; they co-author papers with faculty members; they are our best spokespersons."

Morris's efforts are financed through what Johnson calls "an integrated set of financial tools," including University and Minnesota state investments, grants from the U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture, and bonds.

In addressing whether these efforts at Morris will save the campus money, she said, "yes" and "it depends."

"For example, as long as the price of natural gas stays at or above $8/BTU, we save money by using biomass gasification," Johnson said. "And, while [Clean Renewable Energy Bonds] are 'no interest' bonds, they still must be paid back. We don't have deep pockets or abundant resources--just imagination, vision, and resolve. Moreover, we are spending close to home; we are re-investing dollars in rural America.

"We believe that the work happening on our campus provides a prototype for transforming the future of rural America in a way reminiscent of the Rural Electrification Act of the 1930's. We believe that this on-site renewable electric and thermal generation system not only provides a model for other colleges and universities, small communities, and neighborhoods in the United States, but that it also has great relevance for developing countries--truly a model of global significance."