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 

6 thoughts on “Student Action on Clean Energy”

  1. The University could also offer space to power companies that wish to install windmills since a significant portion of electricity is lost in transmission. However, the proximity of the airport may preclude that.

  2. The City purchases about 10 percent of its government’s modest electrical requirement from wind farms in West Virginia. (Takoma Park is at 100 percent.) Wind farms also exist in south central Pennsylvania. I am not aware of any prime areas for wind farms that are any nearer College Park.

  3. The university and CP government should be purchasing 100% of their electricity from Wind and/or other 100% renewable sources (such as solar). There are many economical options for doing so. Indeed, UMD Vice President Doug Duncan led a similar effort as County Executive in Montgomery County that garnered national attention. It would terrific for him to do so again here.

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