Student Action on Clean Energy

The following is from RTCP contributer Sam Snellings and does not neccessarily represent the views of this site or its other authors:

When it comes to environmentally friendly buildings it is not just how you build them, it’s also how you run them. Buildings account for 70% of our nations electricity use – electricity that, in Maryland, is generated primarily by the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas.

These fossil fuels each emit varying amounts of environmentally damaging materials. These include nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, mercury, and carbon dioxide along with trace chemicals and particulate matter. These emissions contribute to acid rain, ground smog, mercury bioaccumulation, global climate change, and human illnesses such as respiratory disease and asthma.

Students at the University of Maryland have put together a proposal that would purchase clean energy in the form of Renewable Energy Credits for a cost of 12 dollars per student, per year. This purchase would amount to 137,000 Megawatt hours of electricity, or the same amount used by 11,000 homes. It would be the largest clean energy purchase by any institution of higher education in the United States.

Potential benefits of clean energy:

  1. Rural areas – farmland is usually exceptional for the placement of wind turbines and biomass facilities, bringing investment and jobs into slow-developing farming communities
  2. Energy security – while the minority of electricity is generated at oil burning facilities (about 6% in Maryland), minimizing the amount of imports from unstable areas of the world helps avoid shocks like those in 1973 and the early 1980’s.
  3. Research and development investment – clean energy technology is still in its infancy. The more investment our country has in these technologies the better we can license them to other entities. This strategy is already being used by Brazil in ethanol technology and Germany in wind/solar technology.
  4. Economy of scale – the more we invest, the larger and more numerous these facilities become and the cheaper the energy they produce is. Currently clean energy is marginally more expensive than fossil fuel energy – but the gap is closing.
  5. Capital vs. Operational costs – most renewable technologies require large capital costs to install, but do not have high operation costs. This is because, except for biomass, renewable technologies do not require the preperation and shipment of a fuel source (such as coal, oil, or gas). The longer a wind or geothermal plant has been generating, the cheaper its electricity becomes.

Undergraduate voters in the Student Government Elections will take up the issue of clean energy on April 17th and 18th. There will be a non-binding referendum in support of a 12 dollar student fee for clean energy purchases. If the referendum passes, it will be a clear symbol that students are truly interested in making the right environmental choices.  After that, it will be up to the administration to take action.

For more information on clean energy at the University of Maryland and what you can do in the wider College Park community:

UMD Energy 

EPA’s Clean Power Guide

Interested in purchasing clean power?  Check out Green-e’s guide 

‘Preferred’ Route to Metro Identified

The University of Maryland’s Department of Public Safety has recently established the ‘preferred’ route from the University of Maryland Campus to the College Park Metro stop through a partnership between the University of Maryland and the City of College Park. This route has been given increased lighting, additional emergency phones and landscaping improvements in order to improve public safety and eventually clarify a walking route from the Metro station to the university.

The Department of Public Safety recommends (for your safety):

  • Avoid walking alone
  • Avoid using electronic devices that impair your senses
  • Use police escorts
  • Keep your eye on the blue-light phones
  • Stay away from suspicious vehicles and persons

Hopefully this first preferred path is only the start to a network of ‘safe’ roads in College Park. While we’re glad that there is interest in clarifying the pedestrian-heavy route between the campus and the metro, there are plenty of other well-traveled roads to the metro that are not included in this plan. Knox and Hartwick Roads in particular, both connect to major student housing (students are likely the most at risk group) areas on the west side of Route 1, angle towards the metro on the east side, and are some of the most recognizable street names in the city. Neither of them are part of this preferred path. Knox Road would be the most logical path for late nighttime bargoers. We also question the rational for identifying the west half of Calvert Road as a preferred route from campus. Calvert Road does not come within several blocks of campus and also fails to connect with most of the major student developments closest to campus.

Hopefully the future plans of the Department of Public Safety include programs that would increase the amount of foot traffic along these pedestrian routes. Lighting and new landscaping is great, but more ‘eyes on the street’ in sparsely populated Old Town would help reduce crime over the long term.

A Tale of Green Cities

chicago city hall roofAs cities across the US become more aware of the environmental impact development has on energy use and local water quality, many cities have begun to adopt strategies to mitigate these ecological concerns and help the environment.

–>Santa Monica, California has adopted green building codes that address storm water runoff, mandates bicycle storage, carpool spaces, storage space for recyclable materials, requires the recycling of construction material, and the installation of water efficient fixtures among other environmentally friendly, low cost building codes.

–>Montgomery County, Maryland has voted unanimously to adopt the LEED standard for all new multifamily residences greater than 4 stories, commercial buildings, and county buildings. This legislation will go into effect this November and mandates energy efficiency, indoor air quality, site selection, water use, and other environmental protections.

–>Chapel Hill, North Carolina passed an ordinance in 1997 that required town owned buildings to use 30% less energy than required by the North Carolina building codes. Accepted strategies include solar orientation, daylighting, renewable heating resources, water conservation, appropriate landscaping, energy efficient lighting, and the use of building materials and colors to lower cooling load.

More cities than we could possibly profile here have adopted environmentally conscious building codes, and many of them have adopted comprehensive green building strategies such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program. From energy and water efficiency to alternative transportation, from site selection to the beautification of public spaces, cities are learning how to make themselves allies of the landscape instead of adversaries. Even Chicago’s city hall, pictured above, incorporates a insulating green roof.

The city of College Park is not unique in its lack of Green Buildings codes, but it’s foreseeable that the city (or county) might jump on the bandwagon if the influx of CP development continues as we expect it will. Certainly the university can do more in this area and join a growing list of universities that have done the same. In the past we’ve suggested that the East Campus Development initiative incorporate some form of green building standards and we reported on the NOAA building in UMD’s research park that will be LEED certified.

Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling (if it hasn’t already):

  • Require demolitions, renovations, and new construction to recycle 60%+ of their construction waste
  • Mandate the use of low-flow faucets in new construction and renovations
  • Encourage the installation of waterless urinals
  • Relax parking space requirements for multifamily construction
  • Provide funding for covered bicycle parking facilities
  • Organize a renewable energy credit purchasing program for residents of College Park

What do you think?

Green NOAA Building Coming to M-Square


College Park isn’t just bursting with new residential development – M-Square (our explanation), the university’s office park, will welcome a 280,000 square foot building that will house the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) new Center for Climate and Weather Prediction. This 50 million dollar center by developer Opus East broke ground in more ways than one last May – it will be the first ‘green’ building in the M-Square development. The project includes a green roof that will help insulate the building and help reduce storm water runoff and an onsite waterfall supplied by collected rainwater. The green roof will also help protect the roof surface – reducing maintenance costs in the future. Over 600 people will work at the center when it is completed.

Besides the visible sustainable aspects, the building will have enough “invisible” sustainable aspects to attain a LEED silver rating. This rating is determined by the U.S. Green Building Council, a leader in sustainable building practices. The new NOAA building will use less water, less energy, and be more comfortable for its employees than most modern buildings. As Senator Barbara Mikulski put it, this is a “world class work environment.”

The Diamondback recently did an excellent piece on the M-Square office park, outlining concerns that the city had about how car oriented the development was shaping to be. “If most people coming to the office arrive by cars, it defeats the purpose of the transit system,” said Councilman Andy Fellows. The new NOAA building is not exempt from this criticism, as it incorporates a large onsite garage. Hopefully future development in M-Square take better advantage of the proximity to public transportation.