Blairstown adds sustainable energy to list of offerings

Nov. 12, 2007 11:25 a.m.

From the Nov. 12, 2007, Princeton Weekly Bulletin

After nearly a century of caring for the planet's young people, the Princeton-Blairstown Center is stepping up its efforts to care for the planet as well.

The center, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the University that operates adventure-based and experiential education programs for urban youth and their families, has just installed both a new hydrogenerator and a state-of-the-art solar panel system that together will generate more than 40 percent of the facility's electricity. A dedication ceremony for the new sustainable energy projects is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 17.

According to Director of Development Carol Christofferson, the ceremony will mark the culmination of a long effort on the part of many University alumni and other donors, who have sought to make the center a place where young people can learn about responsible energy choices.

"Our supporters have been dreaming of this for years," Christofferson said. "We would like to provide kids with an understanding that there are choices they can make that affect their lives. Among those choices is the judicious use of electricity and improving the environment."

The center was founded in 1908 near Bay Head and moved to its present location near Blairstown in northwestern New Jersey in 1930. Staff members and volunteers have explored means of conserving energy since the early 1970s, when a windmill was built on the grounds. At that time, a 6-kilowatt hydroelectric generator also was installed on a dam on the nearby artificial lake, but a 2001 storm irreparably damaged it. The dam's new turbine generator, provided and installed with assistance by the University's facilities department, will generate approximately 10 kilowatts of power.

Solar panels were used for several years on two separate occasions in the 1980s, but the technology at the time proved unsuitable. The new panels on the Egner Lodge dining hall, however, are capable of producing an additional 10 kilowatts when sufficient sunlight is available. When combined, the hydroelectric and solar generators will significantly lessen the center's need for fossil fuels, the burning of which creates greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

"These projects are mostly about preventing the need to draw electricity from the grid and burn fossil fuels on site," said Shana Weber, the University's sustainability manager. "If enough people implement initiatives like these, and pair them with education and continued conservation, we prevent the need to build additional fossil fuel power plants, which has a direct impact on the global climate, air, water and soil quality."

The new equipment will reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by 40,000 pounds a year, equivalent to the emissions of about three midsize cars.

The projects also will provide learning opportunities for undergraduates. Eileen Zerba, director of the undergraduate lab at the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI), said that she looks forward to incorporating the 31-building Princeton-Blairstown Center into the student research that grows out of her "Fundamentals of Environmental Studies" courses.

"The Blairstown center is a model community of buildings where we can explore green designs for daily living," said Zerba, who is also a lecturer in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and PEI. "I'd like to encourage my students to use it for small group research projects and for their senior theses. It's an opportunity for them to pursue real-life environmental projects with a community connection."

The new equipment was purchased with funds from the Hyde and Watson Foundation, the E.J. Grassmann Trust, and several anonymous donors and alumni, in addition to a grant from the New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection.

State Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson, a 1986 Princeton Graduate School alumna, is expected to attend the dedication at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 17 during the annual Woodcutters Weekend, when volunteers help the center prepare for the winter.