Western ranks high in EPA challenge - The Western Front: News

Western ranks high in EPA challenge

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Posted: Tuesday, April 27, 2010 12:00 am

University won first in Northwest and eighth nationwide.

Western emerged as a top contender in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s College and University Green Power Challenge due to its purchase of renewable energy.

The school ranked first in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and eighth nationwide.

The competition included 54 universities around the country that use renewable energy and are members of the agency’s Green Power Partnership.

The Green Power Partnership is a voluntary program providing technical assistance and public recognition to organizations that utilize alternative power for their electricity needs.“This is great not just for the university, but for the country and the world on the whole,” said Tim Wynn, director of Western’s Facilities Management. “More [institutions] are getting on line with the program and joining in the movement.”

Due to the increase in participation, Western is no longer in first place, Wynn said.

“We’re not alone at the top anymore, but this is good news because we are getting more [organizations involved],” he said.

Seth Vidaña, coordinator for Western’s Office of Sustainability, said Western has set an example for schools in the rest of the country to follow.

“The best result we’ve seen is a response by other schools,” Vidaña said. “It’s not just about here, but also the effects on other campuses around the nation.”

Vidaña said that even though Western started out at number one, he thinks it is wonderful that other schools and students have initiated similar energy plans.

The main reason the agency’s release is so significant, Wynn said, is because Western purchases all of its energy from renewable sources.

“We are one of the few universities in the nation that have 100 percent [renewable purchases],” Wynn said.

Western has purchased entirely alternative power since 2005, when a student-proposed initiative passed to implement a Renewable Energy Fee for the purchase of “green” energy.

The EPA defines “green” energy as electricity produced from a subset of renewable resources, such as solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and low-impact hydropower.

Using the fee’s revenue, the school offsets 100 percent of its energy usage via Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), purchased from the Endeavor Wind Farm in Iowa. Yet, Western purchases all of its electricity from Puget Sound Energy.

RECs represent the non-power qualities of alternative energy sources. They are sold separately from the physical electricity generated from the source.

RECs are used in place of directly buying “green” power. Revenue from RECs supports financial incentives for developers to build more renewable energy projects, such as wind farms in Iowa.

Students for Renewable Energy, an Associated Students club that promotes energy conservation and education, composed the initiative in 2004 and created a petition to get it on that year’s election ballot. The initiative was approved by an 84.7 percent student vote and finalized in 2005.

“I think that students demonstrated great leadership [in 2005],” Vidaña said. “We are still seeing the effects of that.”

Vidaña said the group’s energy goal was 100 percent, despite claims that it should be lower.

Erika Redzinak, co-president of Students for Renewable Energy, said she was ecstatic when she found out about Western’s high ranking

“I think it is a great honor to be part of a college that has been named by the EPA,” she said. “It is an immense accomplishment for Western.”

The Renewable Energy Fee, which is in its fifth year, will be up for renewal in the spring Associated Students elections.

“We have a unique opportunity to keep this renewable energy wave going,” Redzinak said.

Redzinak said the club has worked diligently the past few months to get the old Green Fee language rewritten in a way that would still support RECs and also have money set aside for student sustainability projects on campus.

Western senior Casey Pape, a member of the club, said students should remain diligent in regards to Western’s strong energy efficiency.

“I would just [tell everyone to] vote in the AS elections in order to keep it that way,” he said.

Western’s power purchase is one of the largest green energy commitments made by a college or university to date, according to the EPA’s website.

“Very obviously, the good news is that [the ranking] is because of the students,” Wynn said. “It’s clearly something the students have taken charge in and a wonderful accolade for them.”

According to the website, the EPA ranks collegiate athletic conferences by the total amount of green power used by its schools. To be eligible for the competition, each school in the conference has to qualify as an EPA Green Power Partner and each conference has to collectively use at least 10 million kilowatt-hours of green energy.

Western ranked behind the University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University, Carnegie Mellon University, Oregon State University, the University of Utah, the University of California at Santa Cruz, Colby College, Southern Oregon University and Adelphi University.

“It’s a great report, and I hope we can stay up there,” Wynn said.

The Green Power Partnership includes a diverse set of organizations including Fortune 500 companies, small and medium businesses, government institutions and a growing number of colleges and universities.

Western received the EPA’s Green Power Leadership Award in 2005.

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