What does your campus and community do when your natural gas pipeline is severed?

Learning about the biomass plant at UMM: photo credit- Juliana Goodlaw-Morris


This past weekend, September 23-24th, almost 200 students, staff, and faculty were faced with this issue while at the University of Minnesota, Morris (UMM) for the UMACS conference.  The main natural gas pipeline between Benson, MN and Morris, MN (approximately 25 miles) was severed.  Thus, leaving the community without their main source of heating/cooling and cooking needs.

However, except for the lack of hot water in our hotel rooms- the participants of the conference didn’t have to worry because the Morris campus has a biomass plant that was  kicked up to full power- eliminating the need for natural gas to heat and cool the buildings.

UMM is a leading renewable energy campus in the country, and the only liberal arts college within the U of Minnesota system.  As colleges and universities seek to transition towards renewable energy options, many lessons can be learned from how UMM has been successful in the development of two 1.65 megawatt wind turbines (which produce 70-100% of the campus electricity needs), a biomass gasification plant (using locally sourced fuel stock), solar thermal heating for their pool and other solar photovoltaic systems.

Participants at the conference were able to learn about the many sustainability efforts at Morris through different tours, including an agriculture campus/community tour, renewable energy tour, and even a night prairie walk.

On the prairie: one of the UMM wind turbines: photo credit- Juliana Goodlaw-Morris

This enabled the participants to learn about different financing options for renewable energy production (such as ESCOs = Energy Service Companies), successes and challenges with capturing the best biomass products, and how place-based education allows students to connect with their community and the land.  I should also mention that a number of participants camped out during the conference- furthering their understanding of the Minnesota prairie and their connection to the land.

Using the campus as a learning laboratory, something that Campus Ecology espouses, is critical to the success at Morris and many other colleges and universities in the UMACS network and across the country.  Students are not only learning theory, but are testing and tweaking what they are learning through hands-on sustainability projects across the campus and community.

Tour of 2nd wind turbine at UMM: photo credit- Juliana Goodlaw-Morris


One of the goals of UMACS and Campus Ecology is to accelerate sustainability learning and action by sharing resources, ideas, and lessons learned– in the hopes that higher education institutions will lead the way to a sustainable, clean energy future.This gathering at Morris proved that this goal is being accomplished across the Midwest!