The winds of change

The U is set to become the state’s largest purchaser of renewable energy next fall. A proposed $1 increase in student fees to pay the premium on wind power was approved on March 12 by the Utah Board of Trustees.

Elise Brown and Kevin Emerson championed the wind power drive nearly two years ago. For them, the decision was the final phase in transforming the initiative to reality.

“We’re really happy with the outcome,” said Brown, the wind power campaign’s co-director. “We’re really happy with the cooperation from the administration [and] from the students, as well as from the staff and faculty at the [U].”

The wind-power purchase will effectively make the U the largest consumer of renewable energy in the state by quadrupling the consumption of the current leader, the Salt Lake City Corporation.

Although exact estimates are hard to project due to continually fluctuating electricity rates, the $1 student fee is expected to generate approximately $64,000 a year-enough money to allow the U to purchase about 2.7 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

“Last year, when we started the campaign, it cost $2.90 for a 100-kilowatt-hour block of electricity. In just the past year [that rate has] fallen to $1.90…so the price has come down more than 30 percent,” Brown said.

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

Although there had been some confusion as to which power distribution company the U would buy the wind power from, Brown and Emerson believe that the U will be purchasing the energy through Utah Power, at least for the first year of the new program.

However, they want administrators to look into the possibility of purchasing the power through a newly proposed development in Spanish Fork Canyon, called Wasatch Wind.

“As I understand it, [the U administration is] a little concerned about Wasatch Wind because they don’t have their turbines up yet. It looks like the first year we’re probably going to be purchasing through PacifiCorp and Utah Power because the wind power that Wasatch Wind is going to put up is about a year out before it is actually in operation,” Brown said.

PacifiCorp, the parent company of Utah Power, is based in Scotland. The wind turbines used by Utah Power are located in Wyoming, Washington state and Oregon.

The wind-power campaign directors feel that investing the generated funds locally would help create a sustainable future for Utah, both economically and environmentally.

“I feel it’s important to mention that Wasatch Wind is not only [good for] Utah jobs and good for the Utah economy, but it is also cheaper. Wasatch Wind’s proposed rates are about $1 for 100 kilowatt hours, instead of the $1.90 that PacifiCorp charges,” Brown said.

Regardless from which company the energy is purchased, one thing is certain: For at least the next four years, the U will be one of the state’s leaders in renewable energy consumption.

“It’s exciting to see that the U is going to be leading the way in this state. Institutions of higher education are supposed to be cutting-edge, leading the community, leading with new technology and new ways of living that are compatible with the challenges that our society is facing.

This is a step in that direction,” said Emerson, a former U student currently working for the Utah Clean Energy Alliance.

The $1 fee increase will be re-evaluated in four years, at which point U administrators will determine whether to continue with the program, expand it or discontinue it altogether.

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