Cleaner, greener campus energy
- By Thomas James Weaver
American college students often push their schools to live up to their ideals; not so often do they directly supply the means to reach those goals. Not the case with clean energy at UVM. In 2005, a group of students began to urge the university to explore cleaner forms of energy, which led to a survey that showed 68 percent of students willing to add a $10 per semester fee for that purpose. Following Student Government Association and UVM Board of Trustees approval, the Clean Energy Fund was born in 2008.
“Students were saying ‘we want a campus where we can see sustainability and evolution towards a more sustainable way of living in action, around us, and we’re not seeing it,’” says Gioia Thompson ’87 G’00, director of the Office of Sustainability. “They spent two years pushing for this because they wanted more action on the renewable energy front. The real value of the Clean Energy Fund, beyond even the projects themselves, is the experience gained by students, faculty, and staff going through the process and consensus building it takes to bring these ideas to fruition.”
Progress is tangible on campus: solar tracker installations, a grid-tied photovoltaic system generating power at the Hardacre Equine Center, hands-on renewable energy courses, research projects, speakers, and internships. The most visible outcome is a field of seventeen photovoltaic panels installed in December 2010 at the U.S. Forest Service on Spear Street. The solar panels supply 20 percent of the electric power needs of the Aiken Center by generating 95,880 kilowatt-hours per year while preventing thirty-five metric tons of carbon emission. The Aiken solar trackers were among the first projects presented to the Clean Energy Fund’s eleven-member committee of students, faculty, staff, and alumni when it called for proposals from the campus community in September 2009.
“Students are learning more about the fund all the time and have been impressed with the solar trackers and the course offerings,” says CEF Committee Chair Alex McConaghy, a senior business major who is working on a ‘green IT’ proposal with business school lecturer Thomas Chittenden G’04 that would reduce energy loads from desktop computers. “I’ve learned a lot about the importance of working with people from different backgrounds to select projects that help the environment and make sense from a business perspective.”
While students have stepped up to get the CEF off the ground, alumnus David Arms ’88, alumni rep to the Clean Energy Fund and owner of a dairy brokerage firm in Shelburne, says he sees an opportunity for alumni to help maintain its success. Arms has offered matching funds for the first $5,000 donated by alumni to the fund and encourages the input of ideas, as well. “The committee really endeavors to use the funds judiciously and make it work for students and the university,” Arms says, noting that UVM can be a model for individuals and businesses in the state through the CEF initiatives.