Small fee could be air in sails of wind power campaign

Today, the Utah Board of Regents meets in the final phase of the approval process for a $1-per-semester increase in U student fees.

The capital generated from the small fee increase, estimated to be between $56,000 and $64,000, would be used to purchase wind power, a renewable energy source. The U will either purchase the renewable energy from Utah Power, a division of PacifiCorp, or from a new proposed development called Wasatch Wind.

The purchase would serve to make the U the largest consumer of renewable energy in the state of Utah, roughly quadrupling the consumption of the current leader, Salt Lake City Corporation.

The $1 student fee would allow the U to purchase about 2.7 million kilowatt hours of electricity each year. By reducing demand for electricity generated by burning fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, the wind power purchase would cut carbon dioxide emissions by about 3,000 pounds per year.

Currently, the U consumes about 235 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, or about the same as 28,000 average homes. Most of this energy comes from Utah Power-a company whose main source of energy generation is fossil fuels.

“Today, more than 90 percent of Utah’s electricity is produced by the burning of fossil fuels, which contributes to acid rain and snow and climate change,” said Elise Brown, co-director of Terra Firma, a U environmental group that championed the drive toward wind power more than a year ago.

Kevin Emerson, former director of Terra Firma, put the $1 student fee in context.

He said the U’s wind-power purchase would also be responsible for saving up to 6.4 million gallons of water per year.

“The process of generating electricity by burning coal uses lots of water. Wind power uses almost none,” Emerson said.

Emerson said that wind power is also environmentally friendly because it does not release harmful greenhouse gases like many other forms of energy do.

But, Brown said, the wind power campaign embodies more than just a fight against global warming.

She said the current paradigm is that global warming is a global issue. This is an erroneous mindset, according to members of Terra Firma-local actions have global implications.

“At some point in time, you have to realize that it comes down to communities, it comes down to local campaigns and grassroots effort like this. So, this is a start,” Brown said. “Think globally, act locally.”

Brown said it is easy to justify an increase in tuition if students understand how the money is going is to be spent. She said the $1 fee increase has yet to meet much resistance from U students and faculty.

“It seems that most student sentiments are that they’re raising tuition so much and we pay so much in student fees already, what’s $1?” Brown said “At least we know where the $1 is going,” she said.

The proposed wind power would be purchased from either Utah Power or a new wind turbine development in Spanish Fork Canyon, called Wasatch Wind, according to members of Terra Firma.

However, members of Terra Firma will still not be completely satisfied until further-reaching environmentally friendly initiatives are taken. The student group wants to have a voice in where the $1 student fee is spent. More specifically, they are looking at Wasatch Wind.

“We want to have a say in how the student fee is spent and where we buy it from because we think it would be better to drive renewable energy development in Utah. By purchasing from Wasatch Wind, the power would be a Utah technology, it would be Utah jobs, it would be good for the Utah economy because the money stays in Utah,” Brown said.

The wind turbines used by Utah Power are located in Wyoming, Washington, and Oregon. Terra Firma feels that investing the generated revenue locally would help create a sustainable future.

Critics say that wind power turbines can be noisy and unsightly. Studies conducted across the world show that while most people are supportive of renewable energy, including wind power, individuals living nearer to turbines have a slightly more negative view.

Brown says students and others should ask themselves about living near fossil-fuel generators.

“Are they any more unsightly than smoke stacks from coal plants?” she said.

[email protected]