Energy & Emissions

Energy powers everything. Williams College uses primarily natural gas, electricity, and some #2 fuel oil to heat, cool, and ventilate buildings, run electronic equipment, cook meals, heat water for showers, maintain grounds, move people, and more.  Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the burning of fossils (oil, gas, and coal) are the main driver of anthropogenic climate change. In 2021 the Zilkha Center with input from other departments drafted the college’s Climate Action Plan, a living document detailing the goals and actions the college will take to decarbonize its operations. To reduce GHG emissions it is important to understand where, when, and how much energy the college consumes.

Emissions Reduction Goals
Williams' Offsets Purchases

Natural Gas and Fuel Oil

Natural gas and fuel oil are burned primarily by the Central Heating Plant to generate steam to heat buildings and provide hot water as well as electricity (in the colder months). Smaller buildings, especially those on the periphery of the campus and the buildings in the faculty and staff housing program, have their own heating, cooling and domestic hot water systems.

Grid Electricity

Williams uses primarily electricity supplied by the grid, which is supplemented by on-site solar photovoltaic (PV) generation and electricity generated by the steam turbine at the Central Heating Plant during the colder months. The college is also a partner in the 76 MW Farmington, ME Solar PV project, which provides approximately 71-73% of its purchased electricity, all GHG free. The college’s central chiller uses electricity to chill water, which is then piped to buildings on the north side of campus for air conditioning during the summer months. Some of the larger buildings on campus (such as Jesup and the Science Center) have independent chillers that cool those buildings. These large central chilling systems are generally more efficient than smaller air conditioning units.

Williams and Solar Power

The first on-campus solar PV array was installed in 2004 on top of Morley Science Center. Since then, the College has installed a number of other arrays – ground-mounted and roof-mounted at the Library Shelving Facility, Weston Field, on top of Sawyer Library, on and around the Class of 1966 Environmental Center, and on The Log.  All these arrays are connected to the power grid. In some cases we own the systems, in others we purchase the electricity from the system owner through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

In 2018, Williams joined with four other small liberal arts colleges (Amherst, Bowdoin, Hampshire and Smith) to collectively purchase 25 MW of electricity annually from the Farmington Solar Project (FSP) (the project’s total capacity is 76 MW), the largest solar project in New England. The FSP came online in October, 2021.