This summer, the college’s 5-year-old cogeneration power plant reached an important milestone: on June 5, the plant took its first steps off the grid.

The cogeneration plant is now capable of running independently from the regional electrical grid in providing heat and power to the campus. This means that Smith will be able to keep the lights on even when the surrounding area goes dark from loss of power.

Coupled with the purchase and installation of a new generator for restarting the cogeneration plant following disruptive weather, Smith is completely independent in producing its own power without assistance from the electrical grid—a step referred to as “islanding.”

The need for a new generator to restart the plant was demonstrated in recent years when the Western Massachusetts region endured several interruptions in electrical service due to weather events. Those took the form of massive thunder storms, a tornado, hurricanes and, most notably, a devastating snow storm in late October 2011, which knocked out power widely throughout the region and left Smith without power for four days.

During the “Halloween snowstorm” in 2011, Smith’s cogeneration plant also lost power. A few boilers provided steam for heating campus buildings, but air handlers and pumps in the buildings had no electricity and the buildings soon went cold. Downed power lines needed to restore electricity to the area before restarting the cogeneration plant.

In addition to “keeping the lights on,” the cogeneration system keeps the showers running. The system reduces Smith’s dependence on fuel oil, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by driving one generator that produces electricity, and a heat recovery steam generator that captures the heat from that process and converts it to steam, for heat and hot water.