Balancing Expectation and Reality
Sustainability has long been part of the conversation among those living on Cape Cod, including the leadership of Cape Cod Community College. With economic constraints likely to persist, the college’s grander energy goals rely on thorough cost-benefit analyses coupled with a big dose of patience.
By Karla Hignite
"With hundreds of miles of beaches, it's not rocket science for anyone here to understand that if we foul the water, it impacts our quality of life and livelihood," says Kathleen Schatzberg, president of Cape Cod Community College, West Barnstable, Massachusetts, and a board member of the area chamber of commerce.
By the time she arrived at CCCC in 1998, the college was already working to protect the Cape's environment through advocacy efforts demanding action on a nearby Superfund site. Ongoing causes for environmental concern include an electric coal-fired plant on the Cape, where a tanker went aground several years ago polluting much of the bay, and a nuclear power plant located across the bay, notes Schatzberg. "If anything were to happen at that plant, we are in the path of its prevailing winds."
Despite wide acceptance within the community for renewable energy, the college has been unable to move forward with a planned wind generation project, which has been held up by the county's historical commission, primarily for reasons of aesthetics, explains Schatzberg. "It's a classic case of not only NIMBY, but NOTE—not over there either." The college is wasting no time as it attempts to reengage the county with its wind energy initiative. Currently the construction site for the turbine is being readied to host a solar array.
While many campus sustainability initiatives require a longer-term focus, current economic constraints are testing long-range planning efforts at CCCC, says Schatzberg. More often, projects hinge on determining a workable financial model with a three- to five-year time horizon. "That forces short-term reprioritizing," she adds. Instead of purchasing the solar array outright, the college opted to enter a power purchase agreement as a way to get the job done without a big upfront investment, explains Schatzberg. "We won't save as much as we would have over time if we had invested in our own system, but this is the new reality for many of us when financial uncertainties are so great."
That places another layer of responsibility on the CBO—to hold in balance the long-range plans of the institution and the shorter-term solutions that may be required to get there, says Schatzberg. "A key role for the chief business officer is explaining that tension to trustees and other stakeholders, and addressing their concerns about cost-benefit relationships."
KARLA HIGNITE, Universal City, Texas, is a contributing editor for Business Officer.