Originally post on @theU on April 1, 2019.
By Emerson Andrews, Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund program manager
Did you know that every semester U students are investing in a clean energy future? In the past 15 years, students have come together on two occasions to pass self-imposed fees to create a fund for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects on campus. Both of these initiatives defined a more concrete pathway toward carbon neutrality while providing a mechanism to achieve the dream of a renewably powered future.
The resulting Sustainable Energy Fund (SEF) is a revolving loan fund (RLF) dedicated to large-scale sustainability projects at the University of Utah. To date, the SEF has invested $235,000 in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects on campus.
Now faculty and staff have an opportunity to contribute to this same fund. Sustainable investment on campus doesn’t have to rely solely on student fees. This April, in honor of Earth Month, we encourage our faculty and staff to join our students to take direct, tangible action to address climate change and realize our students’ vision of a clean energy future.
Due to the nature of the projects that are funded, the SEF reduces greenhouse gas emissions, water use, fuel use and waste. Because of these benefits, it helps the University meet its goals of carbon, waste and water neutrality.
Sustainability-oriented RLFs exist across campuses nationwide. These funds provide up-front capital to fund renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that result in cost savings. As the projects pay back the loan, the money coming in from these cost savings is used to fund other projects. Quite simply, revolving funds are renewable sources of money for renewable projects.
Creating an RLF addresses a major roadblock in campus sustainability: High initial costs make many sustainability measures difficult for colleges and universities to finance, despite the fact that these projects often have long-term cost savings. These funds capitalize on the long-term profitability of sustainability projects by covering these initial costs while securing the return they produce for future initiatives, making such projects much more feasible.
Additionally, RLFs internalize the benefits of cost savings and energy production. Because the university’s fund uses existing resources to pay for projects, rather than seeking external funding, it allows the university to capture the full financial benefits of renewable energy and efficiency projects.
Just in the past few years, our students’ efforts have resulted in the following:
- Mounted solar arrays on the S.J. Quinney College of Law parking canopy, Kennecott Mechanical Engineering building and Taft Nicholson Center.
- Replaced old heaters at Red Butte Garden greenhouses with new high-efficiency and low-polluting models.
- Installed motion- and daylight-sensitive LED lighting in the Special Collections area of Marriott Library to reduce energy and preserve collections.
These projects now return more than $25,000 a year to the fund in energy savings, which accounts for almost 20 percent of funding available for new projects. Within a few years, the growing fund will outpace student fees and staff donations demonstrating the power of an RLF.
Despite all of these benefits, the majority of the SEF projects have been funded only through student fees. Of the 80 plus funds like this at campuses around the nation, the university’s is one of five that relies almost entirely on student funding.
Now, University of Utah’s faculty and staff have an opportunity to match the efforts of the students to build a sustainable campus. A simple $20 per month donation (just $10 per paycheck for U employees) will offset a single person’s portion of all carbon emissions coming from campus operations. Our students have put their dollars to work for the greater good. Now it is your turn. Join us in making an investment in sustainability this year. With your help, we will continue to make the U a better place for all who live, work and play here.
Click here to learn more about the Sustainable Energy Fund and how you can make it grow.