Campus electricity use
Campus electricity use

The Student Government Association’s sustainability director is working to get the university out of the market for nonrenewable resources and only pay for power that wasn’t once a fossil.

By 2020, Ori Gutin wants the university to buy only electricity made from renewable sources, which he said would be a big step toward the university’s goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. 

“It’s a big goal, but I do think it’s something that’s necessary,” Gutin said. “It’s something achievable as well.”  

As part of the sweeping Climate Action Plan adopted in 2009, the university set targets for carbon emission reduction over the coming decades 

with the ultimate goal of achieving 100 percent carbon neutrality. The school realized the first target last year by reducing its emissions 15 percent since 2005. The next targets are 25 percent by 2015 and 50 percent by 2020.

“Every year, we’re increasing the percent [of energy] that comes from renewable sources,” said Mark Stewart, Office of Sustainability senior project manager. “But we don’t have an overarching strategy for achieving our 2020 goal.” 

Besides keeping campus growth carbon-neutral and implementing more conservation technology, Stewart said, eliminating nonrenewable energy sources is the only way to achieve that goal. 

As Gutin pushes his proposal over the coming weeks, Stewart said the next step is to dive into the details, such as where the clean energy would come from, how much it would cost and how much of it could come from projects within the University System of Maryland.

This university gets at least half of its electricity and all of its heat from a university-owned natural gas power plant on Route 1. The school pays for the rest through various contracts to use the local power grid at about 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, Stewart said. About 15 percent of the purchased energy already comes from clean sources, though Gutin would like to see that number become 100 percent by 2020. 

Such a change would have offset almost a quarter of the school’s total carbon footprint in 2012, Stewart said. Purchased energy was the second-largest contributor to the school’s carbon emissions last year, accounting for 64,335 metric tons worth of carbon emissions out of the total 278,722. The campus power plant accounted for 45 percent of that total, with on-campus commuting and air travel making up most of the rest. 

The demand for purchased electricity has increased with on- and off-campus growth, according to the 2012 sustainability report. 

To meet the demand with clean energy, Stewart said there are two options. Some university system clean energy projects, such as the 16.1 megawatt solar array at Mount St. Mary’s University and the Roth Rock Wind Farm in western Maryland, have the potential to provides large amount of energy in an efficient and environmentally friendly way. Those projects already funnel one-third of the energy they produce to the university system. 

There are also a number of local, unaffiliated projects that could give the university clean energy options. 

The limiting factor, Stewart said, is costs.  

“We want to go about this in a smart and strategic way so we get the most out of every dollar,” he said. “We want the most carbon bang for every buck.” 

As the sustainability office examines his proposal, Gutin plans to reach out to students, alumni and faculty. 

Carlo Colella, Facilities Management assistant vice president and University Sustainability Council chair, echoed the need for major change to stay on track for the 2050 goal. 

“We have harvested a lot of the low-hanging fruit, and it’s getting harder to get to that end goal without a game changer or bigger strategy,” Colella said. “We don’t have that at this time, but we are working to make that happen.”