‘Net carbon-neutral’ power pursued for university
City brokers deal to meet Western’s efficiency goals
Originally published 2013-03-21
Following a student’s initiative to enact a new fee on campus, Western State Colorado University is on course to become “net carbon-neutral” for the electric power it purchases.
City of Gunnison Public Works Director Tex Bradford reported this week that he’s brokered a deal that would increase both deliverable wind power and carbon-offsetting credits, allowing Western to meet its goals for emissions reduction in coming years.
In 2007, Western President Jay Helman signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment — a pact that now includes nearly 700 signatories.
The agreement commits Western to a 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020; 50 percent by 2035; and 100 percent by 2050.
Environmental studies and biology professor Jonathan Coop, who chairs the university’s “20x20” committee, noted that university leaders have taken numerous steps in recent years to meet those goals.
“We’ve really gone through and thought about everything we could,” he said. “But we’re getting to the point now where additional things are going to require a big investment.”
That’s where Western senior Kyle Brookens comes into the picture.
Brookens was instrumental last spring in designing a new fee that was ultimately passed by a vote of the student body.
The fee — which amounts to $15 per student, per semester, and can be waived — created a “renewable energy fund” on campus. As envisioned, the fund would purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) — which fund an investment in renewable-power production, rather than actual energy from renewable sources.
As a result, in recent months, Public Works Director Bradford has strived to make Brookens’ vision a reality.
The city — which provides electric power to Western — currently obtains more than 50 percent of its electricity from non-carbon emitting sources (hydropower, wind and nuclear).
Bradford said that the university uses about 7.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year — about one-tenth of the city’s total “sales” to customers.
But under a scenario that he’s brokered, Bradford estimates that Western can achieve a level “at or near 100 percent net carbon-neutral” for the electric power the university purchases.
It would work like this: An additional 8-9 percent of Western’s electricity needs could come from “deliverable” wind power — or actual power provided by a wind turbine.
That would mean that about 60 percent of Western’s power supply would come non-carbon emitting sources. Bradford then estimates that the remaining 40 percent, approximately, could be offset by RECs.
A commodity which can be bought and sold, RECs represent proof that electricity was generated from an eligible renewable energy resource. That means the purchase of RECs effectively offsets carbon emissions from non-renewable sources.
In total, Bradford said that the scenario would cost Western about $45,000 annually from the renewable energy fund. He said that a three-year agreement with Western is being proposed, allowing university leaders an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the program.
“About half of our emissions are because of our electricity purchase,” professor Coop noted.
So, why not install electricity-producing photovoltaic panels spanning the roofs of campus buildings?
“Part of it is we do have a good partnership with the city,” said Coop.
Additionally, due to the high cost of panels, a larger chunk of Western’s carbon footprint can be reduced through the city’s proposed scenario than if panels were installed, he added.
“It’s a really good synergy for a student to tackle a big issue and really make a difference,” said Coop of Brookens. “I think that’s one of the unique things about Western.”
Bradford presented the concept preliminarily to council Tuesday. He plans to officially propose the idea to Western officials in coming days.
But the scenario is expected to benefit the city as well.
In recent years, RECs have become significantly cheaper, said Bradford. That is allowing the city — at the same time it’s meeting Western’s desires — to purchase more RECs itself.
Currently, about 2 percent of the city’s power needs are offset by RECs. But by terminating contracts early without penalty, the city — for the same amount of money it’s currently spending — can purchase RECs equivalent to 17 percent of its demand from non-renewable sources.
“There’s no financial impact to the City of Gunnison,” Bradford told council Tuesday. “The university is paying their way. We’re proposing to increase our attributes without affecting cost.”
It’s expected that the new contracts — benefitting both Western and the city —would be implemented this coming month, he said.
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or email@example.com)