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Colby College has begun construction on a new biomass plant that will replace about 1 million gallons of heating fuel with about 22 thousand tons of locally sourced wood chips and forest waste annually. The initiative takes the College much closer to its goal of carbon neutrality by 2015.

Estimates of oil and biomass prices suggest the $11.25-million facility will pay for itself in six to 10 years. It is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2011. The plant will burn low-grade forest waste and debris including bark and treetops. The College plans to get its biomass from sustainable forest operations within a 50-mile radius of the Waterville campus.

The twin 400-horsepower biomass-fueled boilers will produce steam used for heat, hot water, cooking, and cogeneration of electricity. They will replace 90 percent of the 1.1 million gallons of heating oil used by Colby each year.

This is one of many initiatives to address Colby’s carbon emissions. “There’s been a lot of interest from students, faculty and staff, saying, ‘What can we do? How are we part of the larger community?'” said Director of Physical Plant Patricia Murphy. “If we’re not conscious about our own carbon footprint, how can we really be leaders?”

Colby’s move to 100-percent renewable electricity sources, in 2003, helped establish a market for green power in Maine and led to national recognition for green power use. Purchased electricity has come from hydro, wind, and biomass. An on-campus cogeneration turbine supplies about 10 percent of the campus’s electrical needs from steam-plant exhaust, and the College buys Green-E certified renewable energy credits for specific projects.

In the EPA’s green power championships, Colby had the highest percentage among participating colleges and universities nationwide in 2007-08 and 2008-09 and had the second-highest percentage in 2009-10.

Colby College, founded in 1813, is the 12th-oldest independent liberal arts college in the nation. Colby provides a rigorous academic program that fosters transformational relationships between students and faculty. Graduates emerge as committed leaders ready to make an impact on their world. The college enrolls 1,850 students.