CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University students have overwhelmingly voted to assess themselves a fee of up to $8.50 per student each term to pay for “green” energy for the OSU campus. The proposal passed by a margin of 70.6 percent (yes votes) to 29.4 percent (no), making Oregon State one of the few colleges and universities nationally to pass such a measure.
If the maximum fee is assessed, 100 percent of OSU’s electrical consumption can be offset, according to Brandon Trelstad, the university’s campus sustainability coordinator.
“In essence, this will allow us to purchase for the university electricity produced from renewable, more environmentally friendly sources,” Trelstad said. “Right now, about 75 percent of the university’s electricity is from the burning of coal, which is one of the dirtiest, least-sustainable methods.”
Andrea Norris, director of environmental affairs for the Associated Students of OSU, said a task force of students has been actively working on a green energy campaign since last October. During the fall, the group surveyed OSU students to find out how much, if any, in additional fees students would be willing to pay so that the university could convert to renewable energy.
The result: About 68 percent of students surveyed in the fall said they’d pay up to $8.88 per term for OSU to purchase 100 percent renewable energy – results that closely paralleled the official ballot, held during the annual ASOSU general elections in April. The election drew a huge turnout and, in fact, more students voted in favor of the green energy fee than turned out for last year’s election overall, OSU officials say.
“Now the goal of the ASOSU Environmental Affairs Task Force is to reduce the green energy fee for students – or, at least, hold it steady and eventually receive funding for green energy from all stakeholders at OSU,” Norris said.
One option is to offer OSU employees the option of a voluntary payroll deduction, according to Trelstad.
“A lot of faculty and staff are interest in, and committed to, green energy for the campus,” Trelstad pointed out.
The university’s Sustainability Office and ASOSU plan to work with the Oregon Governor’s Office on a proposal to fund the purchase of renewable energy by state universities. They also will work with the OSU administration to seek additional funding from capital construction funds on upgrading energy efficiency on campus.
OSU will have a new $50 million co-generation facility on campus beginning in 2008 that will give the university much greater flexibility in purchasing and using a variety of energy forms. The fees raised by students will be used to purchase blocks of renewable energy, Trelstad said, such as wind energy from eastern Oregon that will be added to the electrical grid.
“If OSU were to purchase this amount of green energy today, we would rank an impressive third in EPA’s top 10 list of college and university ‘Green Power Partners,’” Trelstad said. More information about the EPA program can be found at http://www.epa.gov/greenpower/partners/top10ed.htm
“By purchasing such a large amount of renewable energy, we’ll be helping to increase the demand for sustainable energy, making it more attractive for potential power producers to get into the green market,” Trelstad said.
Many green power producers also offer reinvestment projects, including local solar collection or watershed enhancement projects, he added. “These projects result in hands-on learning opportunities for students and on-site renewable energy production.”
OSU recently joined a growing number of universities around the United States in an initiative to make its campus “climate neutral” by establishing policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions and reduce its energy usage. President Ed Ray last month signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment pledge.
The commitment requires OSU to launch a two-year planning process to outline its path toward becoming “climate neutral,” which essentially means that the university will either emit no greenhouse gases, or it will offset its emissions through energy credits and other methods.
“The commitment by students is an important step in that process,” Trelstad said.