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Credit: Elizabeth Jacobs

Penn’s lack of a boiler system may have helped the University become one of the largest purchasers of wind power in the nation.

Since April 2008, Penn has been the largest purchaser of renewable energy credits among higher education institutions in the United States, according to an Environmental Protection Agency report published in July.

While many universities use boiler systems to generate their own electricity, Penn does not have its own generator, having instead purchased steam for decades.

As a result, the University was unable to directly reduce its carbon footprint and turned to wind farms in Pennsylvania to offset its emissions.

In the EPA’s report on colleges and universities, Oregon State University, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Utah were ranked directly behind Penn.

Nationally, Penn placed 21st on the EPA’s list of the top 50 green power purchasers, which include large businesses such as Intel Corporation and cities like Chicago.

Penn began purchasing renewable energy credits 10 years ago to support wind farms in Pennsylvania.

The tradable credits, which represent the production of one megawatt-hour of electricity generated from a renewable energy resource, fund renewable energy facilities and are often used by institutions to curb their carbon footprint.

Though Penn continues to receive its energy from an electricity grid, in which various forms of energy — including wind power — are combined, it purchased 48 percent of the amount of energy it consumed in renewable energy credits this quarter.

The University’s purchases helped to finance the creation of the Bear Creek Wind Power Project, a wind farm near Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

The project, which generates 75,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year, began under the tenure of former Penn President Judith Rodin, who “wanted to make a statement about Penn’s commitment to environmental sustainability,” Environmental Sustainability Coordinator Dan Garofalo said. “Someone [had] to start the ball rolling.”

Penn’s renewable energy credits are funded through the utility rate that it charges customers, including students who live in college houses.

Ken Ogawa, executive director of operations and maintenance for Facilities and Real Estate Services, attributed Penn’s success in the EPA rankings to its early interest and involvement in renewable energy.

“We’ve been doing it longer and we’re a big place,” he said.

Garofalo added that Pennsylvania, unlike some other states, has a good balance of wind farms and residents.

“The problem with wind energy is obviously that if you don’t have wind, you can’t generate the energy,” he said. “The places that are windiest are the farthest away from people.”

On campus, training new Eco-Reps and PennGreen leaders helps the University educate students about Penn’s Climate Action Plan, which outlines the University’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Garofalo said.

In the coming years, Penn will continue to purchase renewable energy credits and search for other opportunities to support its facilities.

“The fact that it’s a daunting task does not mean we should not be doing our best to make progress in that direction,” added Robert Giegengack, an earth and environmental science professor.

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