Students camp out for clean energy

Wednesday March 10, 2010

WILLIAMSTOWN -- All this week Williams College students will sleep outside in tents to raise awareness about a statewide effort to power Massachusetts with 100 percent clean electricity by 2020.

Freshman Sonja Marie Nuechterlein Thalheimer, 18, of Cary, N.C., said Tuesday the sleep-out was organized as a way for students to learn about a legislative bill that, if passed, would create a task force to plan how the state could be powered by electricity coming from only renewable and alternative energy sources, and the Leadership Campaign that is lobbying for it.

"We want to use lights and our laptops, but we don't know where the electricity for them comes from. We want a say in where our energy comes from," she said.

The Leadership Campaign is a statewide organization of mostly college students on a mission to have the entire state running on renewable and alternative energy sources by 2020.

The group held sleep-outs in the fall of 2009 at various locations across the state including several on the Boston Common in which many participants were cited by Boston Police for trespassing.

Thalheimer was one of those students.

"I had to go to court in Boston and pay a small fine," Thalheimer said. "It was annoying having to go to Boston, but it wasn't really an issue."

The sleep-out at Williams College began Monday night and will continue through Thursday night, and was organized by Williams students for Williams students.

"I like seeing fellow students get excited about this," Thalheimer said. "[Monday] night we had nine students participate, and we're expecting more tonight. We're kind of adding more people as we go along."

The sleep-out, which is on the lawn of the Paresky Center, is running in tandem with another event promoting energy conservation, Do it in the Dark.

Both events are being organized by students involved with the Thursday Night Group -- the student environmental club.

Do it in the Dark has been an annual event at the college for about five years, and puts dormitories against dormitories to see which ones can use the least amount of electricity and heat over a week's time.

That competition began on March 5 and will end on Friday.

"Our mission in doing this is to show the important differences people can make in their individual lives in regards to being environmentally conscious," junior Hilary Dolstad of Sedro-Woolley, Wash., said Tuesday.

She said the dormitories are split into two categories -- large and small -- and the residents of the dormitories that win in each category get extra points to buy food at the Paresky Center snack bar.

In order to win, a dormitory must have energy use figures closest to those recorded during the time the college was shut down over winter break, she said.

"It's the simple things such as turning off lights when you're not in your room, unplugging appliances, taking shorter showers and turning down the heat that can make a difference," she said.

Besides helping their dormitories use less energy, students are making pledges to do things on their own to help the environment. Those pledges are being written on post-it notes, and being put on a poster board displayed in the Paresky Center during lunch.

"It's exciting to see people are aware of these environmental issues, and excited to do their part," Dolstad, 20, a biology major, said.

In addition to the competition between the dormitories and the sleep out, two dinners made from organic and locally produced foods will be served Tuesday night and Thursday night, and drying racks have been purchased for each dormitory so students don't have to use electricity to dry their clothes, Dolstad said.


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