Episode 15: Landfill-gas Flaring Project at Central College of Pella, Iowa - Transcript
Dave Karlsgodt 0:00
Welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast. In each episode, we'll talk with leading campus professionals, thought leaders, engineers, and innovators addressing the unique challenges and opportunities facing higher ed and corporate campuses. Our discussions will range from energy conservation and efficiency to planning and finance, from building science to social science, from energy systems to food systems, we hope you're ready to learn, share and ultimately accelerate your institution towards solutions. I'm your host, Dave Karlsgodt, I'm a principal at Fovea, an energy carbon and business planning firm.
Brain Campbell 0:33
In our Climate Action Plan, this looked like a solution that we could implement pretty quickly, and it would have a pretty significant impact on our overall emissions. These things are not really that complicated. We just ignore them right now. And so I think there's a good education to do there. And you know, the other side of that, too, is the landfill folks understand all of this pretty well. And they're actually excited to have somebody who wants to work with them on these kinds of greenhouse gas reductions and sustainability efforts.
Dave Karlsgodt 1:08
And this episode, you'll hear an interview with Brian Campbell, Director of Sustainability Education at Central College of Pella, Iowa. Together, we discuss Central College's recent Climate Action Plan, with a focus on a unique landfill gas flaring project that came out of that planning effort. I hope you enjoy this November 29 interview with Brian Campbell. Well, Brian and Rob, it is really great to have you on the show today. Thanks for coming on.
Brian Campbell 1:33
Rob McKenna 1:34
Thanks for letting us.
Dave Karlsgodt 1:35
I'm excited to have this conversation. It's a little different than previous episodes where I've it's been had been more of an exploration of topics that I wanted to learn about. The difference today is we're talking with Central College who has been a client of Fovea. And and Rob is my business partner. So that this may be a little different. But I think it's an interesting story to get into. And we're here today to talk about the landfill gas project as our primary topic. But I'm sure if previous episodes have been any guide will veer off into all sorts of interesting topics around sustainability. So let's start off just with basic introductions. Maybe Brian, you can get us started, if you want to just give us a little background on who you are, where you are a little bit of context on the institution. And then we'll go from there.
Brian Campbell 2:22
Great. Yeah, so I'm the director of sustainability education at Central College. So we're a small liberal arts college, about 1200 students, the college is in Pella, Iowa, which is a town of about 10,000, in a pretty rural context, about an hour from Des Moines. And my role is really to be that sort of connector between the academic side of the sustainability here at the college with all the different ways students and faculty can engage projects on campus and in the broader community.
Dave Karlsgodt 2:59
Great, Rob why don't you give us a little intro of yourself as well, please.
Rob McKenna 3:03
Alright, thank you. Yeah, so we started as actually pre-Fovea working on climate action plans with Cornell and, and UNC and, and a few other campuses across the country and had been involved in this for more than a decade now. And it's been really interesting to see how the, the process of climate action planning and implementation at colleges and universities and other campus environments has evolved over that timeframe. And of course, we have the opportunity here at phobia to see a lot of that happen. And, you know, we're constantly working trying to figure out how to help our clients do that more efficiently and effectively. One of the reasons I wanted to bring Brian onto the podcast here is, I was really impressed with how efficiently and effectively they were able to accomplish this at Central College, and do it in a very productive way with on campus stakeholders, and from my perspective, and more importantly, the extended stakeholders out into the community with constituents from the city, from the local gas utility from the local landfill. And through that, I think they were able to identify some really unique opportunities that are going to be effective for them as a campus. But as I'm sure Brian will touch on later also be able to leverage their influence throughout their broader community and even the region in the state. And so that's what I was really impressed with, with Brian and his partnership with his former colleague, Mike Lubberden on the facility side, and just felt like they were a good example of, of how to get this done in a very positive and effective way.
Dave Karlsgodt 4:49
Brian, with that ringing endorsement, maybe you can give us a little more context on what led up to your Climate Action Plan, and maybe even stepping back to telling us a little bit more about system inability at Central College, and then how you got into this climate planning exercise, like what were you trying to solve? Or what had What had you done before? Etc.
Brian Campbell 5:10
Yeah, so my background is really as a historian and so I, I've been here about four years, and one of the first things I wanted to do is kind of understand that context and what was already happening. So Central's been doing sustainability for a long, long time, and Mike Lubberden is is one of the people who's behind that, as you said, he retired about a year and a half ago, after 39 years, and the facilities department here. So he really left his mark, he was the first LEED professional in the state, built the first LEED buildings in Iowa here on our campus. And, you know, just was always looking for ways to, to try new things, and to really figure out how to partner with faculty and make that academic connection, which I think like you said, Rob, is, is sometimes pretty rare for those relationships to work well, but they really do here. So there's been, you know, this history of operational stuff. Also, food is another area where there's been a lot of commitment to sustainability. So we have a organic garden that produces fruits and veggies has a small orchard and permaculture plots and pollinator friendly stuff and honey bees. And, you know, all that is really, again, connected to this long standing academic commitment to teaching and learning about sustainability. So it's a small campus. And I've been impressed, you know, for the whole time I've been here with the creativity and collaboration among faculty. In some places, people are not always willing to try new things. But that's really the opposite here. People are always looking for ways to work together and sustainability was identified, you know, over a decade ago is this connecting thread. And so we have a first year seminar, that's an interdisciplinary kind of introduction of Liberal Arts. and sustainability was the first topic that was chosen as this kind of common theme that would cut across all these courses. And so over a fourth of the faculty were teaching about sustainability. And that really kind of organically led into adopting a core requirement. So part of our curriculum is that every student takes a sustainability course. And actually, this month is the 10th anniversary of the faculty adopting that. And so in the year since we've done lots of workshops, and faculty have developed all sorts of courses on sustainability that are in every department, as well as our programs abroad, and all sorts of things like that. And so yeah, it's really well integrated here. But the climate piece was something that I think probably not unlike many other campuses, you know, when when the first President's Climate Commitment, now Second Nature commitment when that was unfolding, and we were one of the early adopters of that we said, Yes, we're going to move towards carbon neutrality, but there never really been any kind of planning for how to do that. And so like many campuses, we set this date that was way out in the future. And the idea was, we'll just figure it out as we go. But part of what I was hired to do is come in and help do a real climate action planning process and put some numbers on paper. And, as you said, Get stakeholders together and kind of figure out how we're going to actually meet this goal.
Dave Karlsgodt 8:40
Great. Well, yeah, give us a little bit more detail on just the stats of what is the problem you're trying to solve in terms of your footprint? Like, where are your emissions coming from? You know, how big is it relative to other schools just just for framing?
Brian Campbell 8:53
Yeah, so our emissions are around 10,000 metric tons a year, about a third of that is scope one. So our central steam plan that's runs on natural gas, a little more than half is scope to electricity, and then about 15% or so is scope three emissions. So yeah, so we wanted to look in more detail at all those understand, you know, in a little more detail, where we could make an impact in each of those areas. And then, you know, think creatively about what the the opportunities are here in our particular context.
Dave Karlsgodt 9:31
Yeah, Rob, maybe you can speak to where does that fit relative to other institutions? How does Central College compare?
Rob McKenna 9:37
So currently, there's about 600, active signatories to the climate commitments, as managed currently by Second Nature. And the Central College is actually more typical, than you would think, you know, as Brian said, they've got about 10,000 metric tons, annual emissions. And that's pretty typical for the population of campuses that we're that we're talking about. There are probably about half that are kind of in that range in the 10 to 20,000, metric ton range. There are certainly those that are less than that, but but they're very typical. So again, that was another reason why I thought this was a good example, because it's very representative of many of the issues that a lot of the second nature, signatories are going to be dealing with.
Dave Karlsgodt 10:35
Talk me through a little bit about what what you looked at. I mean, I actually wasn't really that actively involved with this project. So I'm, I'm asking this, honestly, what were some of the strategies that you pursued? You know, not just what ended up on the final report, but what, you know, what did you discuss? How did you go through that process of figuring out what to even think about to get a handle on the emissions over time?
Brian Campbell 10:57
Yeah, so I'll say two things. One, we were working on this in sort of 2015-16. And one thing that that we wanted to make sure to do was look at our risk exposure, the financial risk related to things like the Clean Power Plan and potential future state or federal policy that could put a price on carbon. So we wanted to do some sort of policy analysis and think about how we could be ahead of the curve on reducing our carbon emissions in that sense. So I think that was maybe somewhat unique compared to how some campuses approach it, ironically, or I don't know if that's the right word, but we finished the plan, right, the end of 2016, just as the presidential elections were wrapping up. And so at least in the short term, it looked like that risk of, you know, more aggressive climate policy at the federal level is very unlikely. But I still think it's really helpful that we've, you know, kind of put that in the plan as something that we should consider and Future Planning. But, you know, in terms of mitigation strategies, I think a lot of what we looked at are pretty standard sorts of ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving on energy. So we did campus wide audits of our lighting and all of our buildings and had engineers come in and, and put together pretty detailed lists of different things we could do in each building, we looked at opportunities for renewable energy for doing solar and wind both on site and off. And then, you know, like, like Rob mentioned, we had this group of people that we gathered together, that was a pretty interesting mix. And we just spent the bulk of a day or two in a conference room together and talk through what were some different possibilities. And I think, you know, we came up with some really interesting ideas, some of which are already happening in the short term, and some that are, you know, longer term things. So like, I remember, you know, we were looking at transitioning our, our steam, heating infrastructure to hot water, which is more efficient, but also introduces all these, all these opportunities for things like geothermal, we had our city administrator in the room, and we started talking through, you know, we have a major sewer line that runs right along one edge of campus right by the steam plant, where there be ways to put heat exchangers in that sewer line, lower the temperature, that pipe just minimally but do some warming of the the water that we'd be circulating on campus. And so I think things like that came up that were precisely because we had all these stakeholders together. And, and like Rob said, we had relationships with these folks before and have worked on different projects together. And then the one that I think we're going to talk about, in particular was with our landfill that nearby, so the South Central Iowa solid waste agency, which is about 15 miles south of campus. And we just happened to be having a separate meeting with one of their staff that day to work on some waste reduction initiatives on campus. And she came into our, to our conversation about the climate action planning. And we started, you know, looking into the emissions at the landfill and thinking about possibilities for what we could do with that landfill gas. And yeah, that that turned into a pretty unique project that we can talk a lot more about.
Dave Karlsgodt 14:34
Rob? Yeah, anything to add to that perspective,
Rob McKenna 14:37
As we went through the process, Dave, we did a pretty typical process to what we do with with most of our clients where we, you know, as Brian mentioned, we started with a pretty typical list. And as you know, from our process, that's where we'd like to start with our clients. You know, there's no reason to recreate the will from place to place to place, let's start with what most people are considering and then adjustment from there. And as Brian said, this broader group, was very helpful in helping process through what would fit, what wouldn't fit, we were able to get to the answer no on a lot of things very quickly, they either weren't viable for this specific situation, there is Central College, they wouldn't fit culturally with what was going on there. Yeah, there were a variety of elements. And we were able to really get rid of a lot of those typical answers, and then focus on those that would be most interesting for Central College. And so I anyway, it just was a good, again, example of efficient process, just from even narrowing it down to what are the core things we're going to focus on here?
Dave Karlsgodt 15:45
Well, from what I've seen, in the plan, you did end up with some typical solutions, such as energy efficiency, or maybe some long term changes to the infrastructure, as Brian was just describing. But I was struck by looking at the plan and noticing the this landfill gas project. And it seemed to have a different profile than some of the other solutions. And that it, it has a really big impact in the short term, but then tails off, while some of the other solutions take some time to take shape. But let me let's transition and talk through that. Like, what, what is this project that you're considering? Where are you now Brian with this? Because I know it was just in theory when we were doing the planning work?
Brian Campbell 16:22
Yeah. So early on, I think we we just quickly, you know, pulled up some data and realize that this landfill, it's a relatively small landfill small enough that by state and federal regulations are not required to do anything with their methane emissions. So they don't have to do any, you know, flaring or electricity production or anything like that. And so, you know, they never have, and they report about 30,000 metric tons a year. So that is just based on your kind of modeling the volume of waste and the age of that waste. And, and like you said, the way this landfill gas works is that there's a certain period in the decomposition of the waste, where it produces quite a bit of methane, and then that tails off over a few decades. And so we learned that, you know, there's a substantial amount of methane at the landfill, about three times the total footprint of our campus. And then we started talking about what are the different ways we could use that since the land is not required to do anything we do a project in partnership with them, there would be the potential for us sort of claiming credit for that mitigation, and then also the possibility for using that. So we looked at what it would cost to do a pretty comprehensive infrastructure for capturing that methane, either to connect that into pipeline quality gas, you know, that would be able to kind of offset our natural gas supply for boilers, or to run generators and, you know, produce electricity that would offset some of our electricity purchase. So there's, there's actually a electrical substation and a gas pipeline quite close to the landfill. So we initially thought those would be great possibilities. And I think, in the long term, that that may prove to be true, but those are projects that are probably in the sort of five to $7 million range in terms of building out that infrastructure to capture a lot of that gas. And we weren't really sure whether there would be you know, enough gas or consistent enough float for that to be a worthwhile investment. And so what we decided to start with was to look into just flaring that methane. And there's a pretty simple little solar powered flare, that just creates a continuous spark and combust the methane and methane is quite potent as a greenhouse gas. So in the short term, it's like 100 times as bad for warming as carbon dioxide. And even over, you know, 100 year life cycle, it's 25 times or so the impact of carbon dioxide. So just flaring it alone, reduces that that impacts significantly. We identified that as kind of the first step. And it was one of the projects that in our plan, we said, you know, this would be a prime thing for students to sort of do some further study and look at the feasibility of the project. So in retrospect, I think that was one of them, the best things we did in the plan was create this, one of the final pieces in the appendix is a list of sort of student research possibilities that could move projects along because, you know, we didn't create a plan and then have a big pot of money to just go and implement all these ideas, we had to sort of refine the details and make the case and, and so that's what we've been doing over the last year and a half or so his students have continued that research. So we built this into one of these first year seminars, and we had students go out and collect data at the landfill over several weeks to monitor the percentage of methane, we identified, there's five vents at this one particular part of the of the landfill. So they, they just passively, you know, vent out the the gas through these five pipes that are all in a row. And so we knew that some of those had methane, we weren't sure how much and how consistently, you know, we sent these students out, they collected that data over the course of a semester, gave us the confidence that pretty consistently, several of those events are up over 50%. So 50% of the gas come now there's methane, we don't know exactly the you know, the flow rates and things like that, that will get once where fully installed. But it was it confirmed that there's a good bit of gas coming out there that that would be definitely combustible. as we as we realized this is, you know, potentially pretty feasible, we start working with the engineers who who work at the landfill on, you know what it would look like to tie one of these solar, spark flares to this, this series of pipes. And to basically tie those five events together, there was some water blocking the the gas and a couple of pipes. So we had to re engineer a solution for draining that liquid anddoing that safely. Because it's, you know, liquid in a landfill, it's leachate potentially. And it worked out really nicely. The landfill had a grant, they can apply for annually to do some sort of environmental improvements or environmental education at their site. And so the college basically put up matching funds, we wrote this grant together to the State Department actually sources, and ended up getting what we thought was going to be, you know, most of the money to cover the project, which was was pretty exciting. And like you said, you know this in our Climate Action Plan, this look like a solution that we could implement pretty quickly. And it would have a pretty significant impact on our overall emissions. And we knew that would sort of tail off for the next 10 or 15 years. But it was the kind of thing that we were excited to kind of move quickly get this done. And you give us some time to work on some of these more expensive, more complicated solutions.
Rob McKenna 22:36
Brian, in our initial assessment, when we were modeling this during the planning process, I think we've estimated this would have the potential to provide greenhouse gas mitigation in the order of on the order of a third to half of your inventory. What have you actually found as you've studied it further, what are your current estimates?
Brian Campbell 22:59
You know, don't I'm not confident in any better estimate, part of what's continued to be the case, we've confirmed that there's a good bit of methane by volume, but it's it's pretty hard to know, at what rate will be able to extract that this flare has a little solar powered fan that creates just a small amount of suction, and in theory, a relatively consistent flow rate. But until we get the whole thing sort of built, we don't really know how much we're going to get. And so we certainly don't think that these five events are going to be where the 30,000 metric tons of co2 is, is all venting. So this is just one section of the landfill. But I'm still hopeful that a third to a half is a relatively realistic number.
Dave Karlsgodt 23:49
In other words, you won't be able to take out the entire emissions from the landfill with this one project potentially, but it may be enough mitigation that could cover your campus since the landfill has more missions, the new campus is that what Yeah,
Brian Campbell 24:01
And and this project, like I said, you know, we've gotten most of it paid for with this with this grant through the state. Some other grant money that the college is has worked on, and the flare itself is about is less than $10,000. And so the bulk of the cost is really engineering these pipes, welding the pipes. And so we're hopeful that the whole project will really be less than $40,000, which, in the scheme of things, when we're talking about, we could have spent five to 7 million on, you know, a system at the landfill to pull even more gas. I mean, this seems like a no brainer as a first step. And it'll help us to confirm, you know, do we want to build a more robust system like that? Do we want to do additional flares? So it's, it's a good first step, the challenge has been that, well, a couple of things. So we put together the this budget, and sort of got some estimates on what it would cost to, well, this HDPE pipe, Ben connect these five events, when the actual bids came back, they were far higher than what we had expected. And so it felt like for a while, this might end up costing us more than we, you know, more than we had planned and that this grant wasn't going to actually cover it. But this is again, where I think having a good relationship with the folks at the landfill has been critical. So they're really committed to doing this. They think it's a cool project. And it's the kind of thing that could be, you know, a good model for other small landfills just like it is for other small campuses potentially. Instead, there's there's a fair number of landfills this size, especially in rural contexts like Iowa. So we kept kind of working at different routes that we could get this done in an affordable way. And it turns out this coming spring, so in 2019, they're going to be doing doing some other work constructing a newer cell at the landfill. And they're going to have contractors out there who are going to be doing pretty similar work welding pipe and digging and stuff. So this is a one of those examples where you know, something that's a great project, but not cost effective on its own, but can be really ideal when the moments right when you're doing other work or other kind of maintenance and repair. And so that's the plan right now. So we're kind of rolling us into the contracting work that they're going to have going on with some other expansion at the landfill. And so we're going to get this thing connected, really, as soon as the as the ground thaws out, and we can do it in the spring. So it turned out that's going to we think make the cost, you know, pretty similar to what we we had expected.
Dave Karlsgodt 26:50
Oh, that's great. Well, and can we back up a second, I want to make sure that listeners understand the math how this works, because basically, this has no impact whatsoever on central colleges infrastructure itself, right. Like it's not directly reducing your emissions, I suppose except to the fact that your your garbage goes to this landfill. Correct. So I mean, it does have that lose connection.
Brian Campbell 27:16
Yeah, and this is actually one of the interesting thing. So you know, this week happens to be energy competition on our campus. So like lots of campuses, we have sub meters and our buildings, so the different residence halls are competing to see who can save energy. And so as we were working on this landfill gas project, and as doing the math, one of the things we realized is we do these energy competitions, we focus attention on electricity and heating. And and that's obviously really important in terms of mitigating greenhouse gas, but the percentage of our overall footprint that students have control over in their dorms, you know, the plug low, the lights, the minimal, you know, changes they can make, in thermostats, it actually is pretty similar to the footprint of our solid waste that goes to landfill. And so even though we do, you know, significant amount of composting of our organics and all of our food waste, you know, just in terms of the the sort of standard math of greenhouse gas reporting, the amount of solid waste we send the landfill is, it's small in the scheme of things, but it's, in some ways we ignore that far more than these other areas. And so we focus our attention on, you know, things like plug load and lighting, teaching students to minimize that impact. But then we send waste, you know, quote, unquote, away and we forget about it. And so, so I think this is there is some good opportunity for education around that and for raising awareness about organic waste and landfills and and and how that is part of the part of climate change, and also opportunities for climate solutions.
Dave Karlsgodt 29:10
Yeah, it really is a game of focusing on the things that, that that matter, but that depends on your perspective. But go ahead, Rob.
Rob McKenna 29:18
Yeah, I just wanted to interject here, as you talked about the math. And you're one of the real benefits of this type of project is how quickly, this can have an effect on the broader global greenhouse gas emissions. I mean, obviously, this is a small project in the grand scheme of things. But if we could do lots of projects like this, there's some key things to remember, this is a landfill that is not required to flare, as we said earlier. So that makes it so this meets the additionality test for greenhouse gas offsets and mitigation. And so that's that's an important element here is folks are looking for projects like this, you know, not every landfill is going to provide an opportunity like this that would meet that additionality test in the other requirements for offsets. But this one does, and so it can have that, that quick impact early on, and and help make that that impact. So those are just some things folks need to keep in mind as they as they look for these types of opportunities. Brian, I had one question for you. I wanted to you mentioned student involvement. What's been the feedback from the students? How have they enjoyed this project? What are some of the what some of the value that they have harvested from this opportunity?
Brian Campbell 30:31
Yeah, so I think, you know, one is just visiting a landfill and seeing piles of waste. And we're in a relatively rural area, they collect waste from several counties. It's nowhere near as big as, you know, landfills in a more urban context. But I think that alone, having students visit a landfill understand, you know, what a landfill is and how that's connected to climate change. I think that's been great winning, we've had several different classes. And now you've worked on this project and made field trips there. So that's been good. Like I said, we've had classes collect data to prove the feasibility this semester, we've had a class that's been drafting a safety protocol for students will do ongoing data collection. So once we get this installed, we're going to have a regular schedule of students to go and collect data and verify the the emissions. So they're working on a safety protocol, as well as a protocol for how we're going to collect that data. Yeah, and I see a lot of possibilities for future student engagement as well for connecting things like solid waste into our thinking about climate change in the way that we're doing. Like I said, things like energy reduction, energy conservation competitions, and things like that. So I think there's a lot of ways we can do good education about organic waste.
Dave Karlsgodt 32:00
Yeah, one of the things that's been interesting for me, thinking about waste, and recycling, and composting, and all these different things, we have all these landfills that are out there that are essentially the sins of the past where we've been putting organic waste into these things for a long period of time. So this project really is only possible because of mistakes that were made previously. But it's really not a long term solution. You know, this isn't this, you don't want to create more landfills. It's just you get the waste out of that, right. I mean, it's more of an accounting glitch, almost. But it is real emissions. I don't know if either one of you guys want to talk to that.
Rob McKenna 32:37
Yeah, it's it's real emissions. And as you said, it's, it's already there. And it's an issue that needs to be dealt with. So if we can deal with it in a in a very positive way, there's lots of co-benefits associated with projects like this, as well, there's, as Brian mentioned, there's the possible energy, harvesting energy opportunities. There's the air quality opportunities, water quality opportunities associated with these times projects. So there's, there's a lot of benefits. And so if, if a campus has an opportunity to influence a situation like this, and you add some fuel, so to speak to the opportunity, and you'll put the students out there put just the energy even if it's not the funding, the excitement and enthusiasm for the project, there's a opportunity to influence significantly these types of situations. So lots of co-benefits associated with it. And so yeah, David, you said we're don't go out and create more landfills. And yes, let's, as Brian has indicated here, let's be very efficient with your how we deal with existing waste and future waste, and waste diversion, and composting, all those kinds of things. But where we have a situation like this, let's dig in and try to get it as quickly as possible. Brian, you mentioned the global warming potential number four, method methane, which is 25 times what it is for CO2 emissions, I think the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change number actually increased it into the 30, I think 32 range. So it's even more impactful if you use some of the more recent numbers.
Dave Karlsgodt 34:13
Well, Brian, I wanted to do to that point or broader point around, you know, you don't want to create landfills, just to create the project that's really backwards thinking. And similarly, like, you know, I know, there's a lot of argument around, like eating meat, for example. But you know, you also can hear about a hard waste being a source of bio, biomethane. Did that come into the conversation when you were talking with people about that? Or how is this project been received? Because it was, in one sense is really simple. Like, you're gonna you're gonna burn methane off a landfill, and you're going to take the credits. in another sense, it's really complicated in that you kind of have to understand all the nuances of the carbon accounting and the greenhouse gas protocols, which as Rob just mentioned, are changing. And, like, how have you been able to get people behind a project that's sort of esoteric and away?
Brian Campbell 34:59
Yeah, I think. So. I mean, one answer is, we've mostly, you know, the people who've, who know most about this, our students who've taken a class, and this has been a significant project to that they've, they've learned a good bit, and I think it doesn't take that long to kind of get it that different gases have different impacts. And, you know, that methane, you know, just some basic chemistry of combustion, you know, people understand. But I do think another student project that's going to be helpful to work at is thinking through, you know, how do we connect these, these offsets, essentially, with things like, you know, our study abroad, travel, our business travel, you know, travel for athletic teams, things like that, that, you know, in the short term, there's, there's not good alternatives to fossil fuel power flights, for example. So we're having good conversations already about how we build sort of modules into our pre-departure process for study abroad so that we can help these students understand how this project locally can be, you know, way of getting them to think about climate change on a global scale as they're traveling to other contexts to spend a semester. Yeah, it's complicated to a point, but I think people, people have to start learning more about this stuff. And I think that's true with things like, you know, how electricity and other energy systems work that it's pretty overwhelming at first. And people don't understand things like, you know, peak demand. But this is partly why we do things like have energy competitions, and have real time data to show to students to help them understand that makes a difference when you buy electricity. And when you use electricity. And these things are not really that complicated. We just ignore them right now. And so I think there's a good education to do there. And you know, the other side of that, too, is the landfill folks understand all of this pretty well. And they're actually excited to have somebody who wants to work with them on these kinds of greenhouse gas reductions and sustainability efforts. So they have a fair amount of land, this, this landfill happens to be on a site that was a former coal mine. And so they have quite a bit of land that they, they're not going to ever, you know, plant, plant corn, soybeans, or whatever else. And they would love to have, you know, like a giant solar field and do other kind of renewable energy projects. And so they're really motivated about this kind of partnership and doing more with this over time, and not just sort of leaving it at, you know, burning old, old methane from the past parts of the landfill. So we're having conversations about how they can do better planning of, you know, laying pipe that we can later extract methane from the next cells, what they're building and how we can do other projects like that. And they've also got, you know, 30 acres of prairie that they maintain, and they're always interested in kind of bringing school groups and college groups and, and educating around these environmental issues. So it's been a really great partnership. And I think there's a lot of possibilities for where can go in the future.
Dave Karlsgodt 38:19
Interesting. Yeah. So the people that manage our trash actually do understand our trash, amazingly enough? I guess. That's obvious. Would you say it, but I think you're right, we just kind of forget about these topics. Yeah. Rob, what do you have to add there?
Rob McKenna 38:32
Actually, I wanted to ask Brian about some of the other projects beyond the landfill gas project that he's pursuing. I know, he's been able to get some momentum behind a couple of other projects. And what are those projects? And and how have you been able to get administration's approval and support for some of those other projects?
Brian Campbell 38:55
Yeah, so like, we've been saying this project isn't as exciting in part, because it's something we can do, you know, relatively affordably and relatively quickly, make a pretty significant impact, and then work on these other projects over time. So solar is is one that we've continued to explore, both in terms of more installations on campus, we have solar on several buildings with relatively small rooftop arrays. So we've started to look at, at larger projects, the roof of our athletic complex, as well as some some land near athletic fields. So we're looking into the feasibility of that. And part of what we are convinced of at least for now is that we'll probably end up doing that with solar plus storage and using batteries to offset some of our peak demand. So we're actually this spring doing a small array about eight kilowatts of solar that's going to be kind of a pergola like a canopy in our garden. And we're going to have a battery that's going to be attached to that. So we can start experimenting with so how do we how we deploy that and, and that's another great project where several engineering classes are going to work on the design of the pergola and how we use the battery and, and come up with kind of ongoing experiments together with our facility staff around that. So so that's pretty exciting. We've also, you know, worked for years really on trying to figure out the right way to bring community stakeholders together to do a community solar project, where the college could buy in, but also other businesses, residents, schools, churches, nonprofits, so again, really trying to, you know, kind of leverage our interest in in climate reductions with, you know, what we can do in the community of Pella. So I've got a couple students this spring, who are doing a project with a coalition of different advocacy groups across the Midwest, where they're, they're mapping small communities that have done renewable energy projects, in particular communities that have municipal utilities and rural electric co ops. So we're trying to put together you know, kind of best practices and lessons learned in lots of communities, similar size, and even smaller than Pella, in part to push along, you know, the project here, but also to really catalyze this kind of work in Iowa and across the Midwest, because I think there's a lot of possibilities, you know, people are starting to see that and, and be excited about that. So, we've done lots and lots more education about solar, not just with our own students, but with community. So we have done community solar tours that, you know, we take people to see the solar we've already got on our campus, as well as other arrays in town. So there's some hog farms that have solar and look business and other places. So we're, you know, increasingly thinking of our sustainability education, not as really just focused on students, but the kind of broader community. So we've done these community tours, we do seller tours for political leaders. So both local officials as well as people who pass through our state caucus season, we've done some tours for presidential candidates. And then we've started a renewable energy camp for for kids in the summer. So we do a week long camp where they learn about wind and solar and Hydro and, and I think all of that is really about, you know, shifting how we think about our, our place and our community. Like I said, My background is really as a historian and historian of religion. So the kind of intersection of religion and the environment has been an area of focus of mine for a long time. And I think I'm convinced we can't just make the financial case for these kinds of project or just show the technical feasibility, but you really have to help shift the culture of the community and help people cultivate that sense of pride and ownership. Because I think with these, you know, issues like climate change, and these big energy transitions that we're seeing, there's a real potential to provoke fear and resistance. You know, we're in a place where there's wind turbines that we can see on the horizon, there's a pretty good sized wind farm, about 10 or 15 miles from here, we've got a hydroelectric plant being installed at the dam just at the edge of town, more and more solar. And so you know, I think we want people to take pride in that and, and be at the table to kind of shape what their communities doing and how they're doing it, and who benefits from it. So I was a state, you know, now we're approaching 40% of our electricity is from wind. And that's great. But, you know, that's largely from two giant investor and utilities. And so I think there's good possibilities for how we, as a municipal utility can kind of claim some of our own leadership locally to how we want to how we want to make those transitions. And so that's been really exciting, you know, is to see several projects that kind of work towards those collaborative efforts in Pella and beyond.
Dave Karlsgodt 44:22
Rob, I can see why you wanted to bring on Brian, it's it's fun to hear about a college that is punching way above its weight in terms of not just addressing your own issues, but thinking about how to change the community around you today.
Brian Campbell 44:33
That's exactly what I was wanting to ask Brian here next is, so Brian, all that sounds amazing, and I appreciate the the focus beyond just the the economic case, but Central College has a lot of fiscal worries, not necessarily worries. But I mean, you you don't have the deepest pockets in the world. So how are you dealing with that side of things? And how are you getting the buy in the resources and the momentum that you need to be able to do these things that you're doing?
Yeah, so I mean, I think like many, many small colleges, we are struggling with, you know, declining enrollments and how we maintain budget. And, you know, that's stressful for people. And it definitely impacts how we do, you know, long term planning, and it makes it really hard to take on bigger projects. So yeah, I think one key there is, you know, we we had some grant money, we were able to put together this pretty comprehensive plan that does allow us to think about, you know, what are we going to do when, you know, we have a boiler break or a pipe break, and we need to take the next step with, you know, transitioning away from Steam and towards a hot water system on campus, at least we have, you know, enough planning in place that we can see, when we do need to make those bigger investments, as well as when there's opportunities for smaller scale things like we're already working on. But I think it also takes creativity, it takes these kind of partnerships looking for things like grants and collaborations with folks like the landfill or the community. And, yes, I think the way we've approached that is, we know that if we're going to do a big solar project, it's got to make financial sense, we're not going to do that at a loss, but but we also have to get people excited about it. And that involves understanding climate change, understanding that sense of community ownership. So there's, there's a lot more to it than just that financial value. First and foremost, for us, there's the educational value of teaching students, and I think that's, that's where, you know, if we're going to solve climate change at the global scale, it's not going to be just by knocking out, you know, the emissions of a small college and get into carbon neutral, here at Central, it's going to be educating students to go out and solve these problems and the businesses they work at, and, you know, the communities they live in. So I think, you know, I think people are compelled by those kinds of things. But yeah, it still has to make financial sense. And so that's why we haven't, you know, just jumped on a big solar project yet, because we're still trying to find the right, the right kind of system that will be at the right scale and the right cost. I'm hopeful. But yeah, it's it's it's not easy in a time when, you know, being a small college is challenging as it is.
Dave Karlsgodt 47:40
Well, Brian, and, Rob, I want to thank you both for taking the time to be on the podcast today. I would like Brian, one final question for you would be if people are really interested to learn more about the work you're doing there, especially this landfill gas flaring project that you've discussed today, or any of the other, you know, approaches that you've been taking? How can people get in touch with you? Is there a place they can go to learn more about what you're working on?
Brian Campbell 48:05
Yeah, the easiest thing is probably to visit the visit our website, so central.edu slash sustainability. Or they could shoot me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. We don't have a lot on the website yet about the the landfill gas project, but I'd be happy to share with other people. And I'd love to hear about, you know, other campuses that are working on some of these came same kind of solutions. Like one one thing we're looking to do after we get this installed is to collaborate with a campus near us probably Grinnell College that also sends their waste to the same landfill to do peer to peer verification of some of our our math and hard data collection on the greenhouse gas emissions. But it'd be yeah be great to hear about other campuses that are doing similar things or other other strategies, other places are working on.
Dave Karlsgodt 49:05
Well, thank you very much for coming on the show.
Brian Campbell 49:07
Thanks a lot, Dave. Thanks, Rob.
Rob McKenna 49:10
Yeah, thanks, Brian. pleasure to talk to you.
Dave Karlsgodt 49:15
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