Campus sustainability efforts expanded wind energy initiative

Following student requests for an Office of Sustainability late last month, Carnegie Mellon University is touting green updates to the school’s infrastructure. This past Monday, the university announced that it is now purchasing wind power.

At the end of last month, Carnegie Mellon and ENGIE Resources announced energy agreements spanning from this year to 2024. Carnegie Mellon will buy its energy from Radford’s Run Wind Farm in Macon County, IL for its Pittsburgh campus. Eventually, that wind farm will serve all campus electricity needs.

Steven Guenther, Director of Facilities Operations at Carnegie Mellon, told The Tartan about Carnegie Mellon’s history of environmental initiatives and the Radford’s Run Wind Farm partnership.
Guenther says that “anything that uses electricity on campus — lights, computers, food preparation, air conditioning — will be powered by a renewable energy source.” The university says this effort will make a substantial impact, akin to the removal of more than 21,000 passenger motor vehicles from highways over a two year span.

Guenther is especially optimistic about the merits of Carnegie Mellon’s move to wind energy. He told The Tartan that renewable energy generators, like Radford’s Run Wind Farm, create two sources of value: electricity and, following federal law, a renewable energy certificate (REC) upon generating one megawatt-hour of power.

“The REC represents the social and environmental benefits of a megawatt-hour of clean energy. You can think of it as the mirror image of a carbon tax; rather than putting a negative value on carbon emissions, it puts a positive value on clean generation,” Guenther explained.

Carnegie Mellon’s energy usage is tracked by its Green-e certified RECs, as the university has spent the past decade offsetting its electric power consumption by purchasing RECs.

“Buying 100% renewable energy is exciting and supports the Provost’s recent announcement of the Sustainability Initiative. The wind power commitment is one of many examples of engaged efforts in support of the broader definition of sustainability afforded by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” Guenther told us.

Other campus environmental initiatives include the installation of almost 500,000 gallons of rainwater storage for reuse in campus buildings, which will offset municipal water consumption and reduce the burden on the sewer system. Spots on campus like the rain gardens in front of the Cohon University Center and the Posner Center’s green roof are an extension of this effort. The Tepper Quadrangle, opened last year, was Carnegie Mellon’s 22nd LEED certified campus project.

“The biggest sustainability initiative in our history could be the Provost’s commitment to grow awareness of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and elevate the university’s engagement with the SDGs,” Guenther noted.

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) acknowledged Carnegie Mellon’s environmental initiatives, awarding them with gold status (surpassing the university’s 2015 silver rating). Carnegie Mellon also ranked 63rd in the nation in Sierra Club’s 2019 Cool Schools ranking of environmentally-friendly colleges. Additionally, Carnegie Mellon was one of the 42 institutions recognized by the International Sustainable Campus Network and Global University Leader Forum in the 2018 Educating With Purpose Report.

Carnegie Mellon is affiliated with a few environmental groups, including the AASHE and the American Campuses Act on Climate Pledge. Carnegie Mellon’s Scott Institute for Energy Innovation hosts Energy Week, which brings together 100 leaders from 67 academic energy institutes and centers from 32 states to discuss future energy initiatives.

Though Carnegie Mellon does not have an Office of Sustainability, it now has a new advisory council focused on engagement with the SDGs set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015.

In a statement, Guenther stated that “our university’s focus includes education, research, and practice in building environmentally sustainable, peaceful, just and inclusive communities. We are blessed with wonderful people doing amazing work on issues connected to the SDGs. Unfortunately, that work may not be widely known or connected to similar efforts. The Sustainability Initiative is intended to discover our strengths and weaknesses to inform a future decision.”