Going green is worth the cost

UNC has gained accolades in the past few years for its commitment to environmentally sound buildings. The Sustainability Office even specifies that all new University buildings since 2008 must meet silver performance standards for LEED, a national environmental rating system.

But this doesn’t take into account the majority of buildings on campus (LEED standards didn’t exactly apply when UNC opened in 1795).

In order to truly consider itself a sustainable campus, the University is responsible for updating these antebellum energy-guzzling buildings.

The Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee is run by students who manage projects funded by money from the student renewable energy fee. A large portion of the committee’s projects focus on improving infrastructure to make the University more energy efficient and eco-friendly.

For example, the committee funded replacing energy-intensive lighting in Hill Hall with more environmentally friendly bulbs. Projects have targeted lighting in other spots as well, including the Pit, which now has LED lights shining down on late-night study sessions, finals flash raves and the like.

These structural changes have the potential to cut UNC’s energy output significantly and actually save money. This seems counterintuitive; after all, construction materials and building development obviously require outputs of cash.

However, the number crunching continually shows that going green saves more than just the environment — it puts green back in our wallet as well. For example, the Hill Hall project will make up the money used to replace the bulbs in just four years.

Considering the potential payback and minimal harm of the committee’s projects, one would think that it would be given a substantial budget. However, the renewable energy fee is a mere $4 per student per semester.

The fee is one of the lowest student fees charged to all undergraduates for the purpose of maintaining and improving University services.

It’s less than the arts fee, athletic fee and APPLES Program fee, all of which only cater to a sector of UNC students. The renewable energy fee instead benefits every individual on campus, students and faculty alike.

The fee was approved by a student referendum in the 2003 campus elections and has not changed since, despite rising technology costs.

Jenna Koester, co-chairwoman of the special projects committee, said the committee is hesitant to try to raise the fee in student elections because students have historically been antagonistic to higher student fees. But an increase of a dollar or two per student per semester would make a grand difference in the long-term.

The renewable energy fee should be present on the ballot in the soonest University election possible. Raising the fee would give UNC students the opportunity to show support for a truly sustainable campus.

Holly Beilin is a columnist from The Daily Tar Heel. She is a junior global studies major from Weston, Florida. Contact her at hbeilin@live.unc.edu.

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