Colleges big buyers of renewable energy credits
As Pennsylvania colleges venture deeper into alternative energy sources, they're giving crucial support to fledgling energy companies.
Eight Pennsylvania colleges and universities are cited as top alternative energy buyers in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 2013 Green Power Challenge. Among them, Allegheny College and Carnegie Mellon, Duquesne, Mercyhurst and Chatham universities are located in the midst of Western Pennsylvania's rich coal and gas deposits.
According to the EPA, their purchases offset carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to those from 70,233 cars during a year.
Perhaps just as important, by making a stand for green energy, colleges affect the marketplace, said Blaine Collison, the EPA's Green Power Program director.
Colleges that signed long-term contracts to purchase renewable energy credits 10 years ago formed the foundation that allowed Community Energy Inc. of Radnor to build the Somerset Wind Farm and later the Bear Creek Wind Farm in North Central Pennsylvania.
“Colleges were the biggest part of it, signing up for wind energy when there was none,” said Community Energy President Brent Alderfer.
Alderfer said Exelon Corp. agreed to provide wholesale credit for the project and put the energy on the grid. Colleges stepped forward as guaranteed retail customers.
Carnegie Mellon, the first school to sign on, purchases national wind credits to offset 100 percent of its electricity.
“When people take a look at the impact of climate change, I think it is people within the university community who see the peril of continuing to use the old high carbon dioxide energy sources,” said Carnegie Mellon engineer Marty Altschul.
At Duquesne, officials said purchasing renewable energy credits is a matter of doing “the environmentally responsible thing for the next generation.”
“We really believe we're educating the future leaders of our country and we need to set the right example,” said Rod Dobish, executive director of facilities management at Duquesne.
In Pennsylvania, where only 4 percent of the power that electric companies sell comes from renewable energy sources, participating in the EPA challenge typically means many of the colleges must purchase renewable energy credits. The credits support the production of alternative energy to offset the schools' use of power from coal, gas or nuclear sources that dominate electricity production here.
Universities concede there is a cost to these commitments but say that cost — which Altschul said adds less than 1 percent to Carnegie Mellon's bill — is small compared to the message it sends.
At Chatham in Shadyside, university sustainability coordinator Mary Whitney estimated purchasing renewable energy credits to offset 100 percent of the school's energy usage adds about $2,000 a year to its energy costs.
Chatham is among a growing number of schools that produce at least a portion of their energy.
Rooftop thermal panels on dorms at its Shadyside campus provide hot water. Its Eden Hall campus, under construction in Richland, will rely on solar and geothermal energy produced on campus.
“We're drilling the well for our geothermal system at Eden Hall today,” Whitney said.
Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.