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University seriously considering windmills at Utrecht Science Park

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Utrecht University will investigate whether it’s possible to place two large windmills at Utrecht Science Park. The most probable location is near traffic junction Rijnsweerd. The university generating its own energy would contribute to the ambition of having a carbon-neutral campus by 2030.

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Wind energy has long been mentioned as one of the options the UU has for generating its own sustainable energy. In a memo to the University Council, the executive board writes that it now wants to seriously explore whether placing windmills is feasible or not.

The location near the ‘arm pit’ of motorways A27/A28 in the north-western corner of De Uithof would be the preferred spot for the windmills. A previous study on the possibilities for wind energy showed that that location could house two large windmills.

A follow-up study is now meant to touch upon the possible consequences of having windmills placed in the area. Elements of this study include safety, financial feasibility, the impact of vibrations and sounds, and public support for windmills in the area. Residents and neighbours of Utrecht Science Park and scientists in nearby academic buildings will be involved in the study.

Carbon neutral
In the previous study, the farmland of the faculty of Veterinary Medicine – the Tolakker – was also mentioned as a potential location for two windmills. However, Utrecht University has decided not to investigate that location any further for now. Reasons include the temporary student housing that will be constructed nearby, the short distance to the Ameliswaard park, as well as its closeness to the village of Bunnik.

With a total of four windmills (two in the north-west and two on the Veterinary Medicine land), the UU would have been able to generate a maximum of 35-40 Mkwh per year, according to early estimates. That’s around three quarters of the university’s current energy usage. Obviously, two windmills would generate far less energy, but they would still contribute significantly to the university’s ambition of becoming a carbon-neutral institution by 2030.

Reduce and generate
The university’s energy use makes up around two thirds of its carbon footprint, according to the memo. For that reason, the university has set the goal for itself of lowering its energy use, and making use of sustainable energy as much as possible. In both these goals, however, the university is running behind its schedule.

In the next few years, inching closer to the energy-saving ambitions will mostly be done by demolishing and redeveloping outdated, energy-gobbling buildings. The UU wants to generate energy on its own land as much as possible, as a way to show that the institution is taking its responsibility, and wants to lead by example. It seems like most hope is aimed at the further development of the so-called aquifer thermal energy storage, installing more solar panels, and then, of course, introducing wind energy.

Placing windmills is often a tricky topic in society, both in Utrecht and beyond. There’s a lot of civic resistance against plans for wind energy in the Rijnenburgpolder, for instance, on the south side of the city. Still, given its sustainability ambitions, the UU wants to explore the options. Last year, the university – along with other institutions and corporations – voiced its desire to make Utrecht Science Park a greener, carbon-neutral place. The municipality is currently working on a vision document for the area, which includes talking to residents and neighbours of the area. One of the topics discussed in those conversations is wind energy, according to the university.

(translation of reactions on the proposal will follow)

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