A new kind of college credit

As part of the 2009 Climate Action Plan, UNC pledged to reduce its carbon footprint to zero by 2050. This is a noble goal, and I have no doubt that we have the potential to meet it.

Unfortunately, according to campus sustainability leaders, this goal is not realistic at the rate at which we’re proceeding.

While there are a significant amount of changes we can make on campus, there are less direct methods to meeting our goals. One new approach to consider is the purchase of renewable energy credits.

A REC is a package containing “credits” of renewable energy, which anyone can buy no matter what fuel sources they are using or where in proximity to the renewable energy they are. Credits can be bought from renewable energy producers.

The credits are produced by renewable generators, and one credit is equal to 1000 kilowatt-hours of electricity. They ensure renewable fuels are being used and compensate for emissions released elsewhere.

In other words, UNC would fund renewable energy sources, but they would be used somewhere else.

Would this count toward our commitment to renewable energy?
I think so. After all, effects from UNC’s emissions are not confined to our campus. As long as we are increasing renewable energy overall, I think we are working toward our goals.

The cost of a REC varies, depending on the type of energy (solar, wind, etc.), the year it’s purchased and the volume of energy. The money for our first REC would come from the budget of the Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee, which is financed by the student sustainability fee.

Per the committee’s plan, the town of Chapel Hill would get involved in this effort as well. Committee co-chairwoman Jenna Koester would like to buy 60,000 megawatts of RECs, with the committee funding $100,000 of the credits and the town purchasing the remainder. The committee is researching the best deal for its budget.

RECs are definitely a great initiative. However, it shouldn’t only be up to students to improve UNC’s energy portfolio. University officials are the ones who committed to the Climate Action Plan.

They must also do their part. University funds should be allocated for RECs.

This would make us competitive with other universities across the country, such as Oregon State University, one of the Environmental Protection Agency’s top 20-ranked college green power purchasers. In 2011 the university purchased about $430,000 worth of RECs, enough to completely offset its conventional energy use.

American University also purchased RECs equivalent to 100 percent of its electricity use.

These universities are not just setting goals to be green power users, they are actively doing something about them. UNC should make it a point to follow in their ever-shrinking carbon footprints. Why wait until 2050 to be carbon neutral if we can work toward doing it now?

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

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