U pledges to continue sustinability efforts

Students, faculty and administration gathered beneath the broken windows and tattered bricks of the aging High Temperature Water Plant on Tuesday morning as President Michael Young took two of the U’s greatest steps toward campus sustainability: cutting the ribbon on the steam cogenerator energy system and signing the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment.

Kevin Emerson, a U graduate who works for a local non-profit group, Utah Clean Energy, looked on from the crowd.

As a founding member of early student environmental group Terra Firma, Emerson worked to increase awareness of campus sustainability issues in the late 1990s. Today, what once seemed a pipe dream has become an impending reality.

“The U can play a big part in helping the state reach its goals,” Emerson said, “It’s already come so far.”

The U is now actively addressing issues concerning energy consumption, material waste and local pollution concerns in Utah.

Energy

Michael Perez, associate vice president for Facilities Management at the U, stepped to the podium at 11 a.m. to describe the impact of the new cogenerator system.

Photographers rushed to snap pictures of the massive steel generator behind him as he explained how the system will replace two antiquated hot water generators with a turbine system that will provide 10 percent of the campus’ energy needs while funneling waste heat into a hot water system that will heat all of the U’s main campus.

The cogenerator will save the U an estimated $400,000 in its first year of use.

University efforts to promote energy efficiency on campus began in 1998, and the recent establishment of student/faculty groups such as The Office of Sustainability and the Associated Students of the University of Utah Board of Sustainability have raised awareness of these concerns within the student body.

The U currently purchases wind power offsets for 13 percent of its energy needs. ASUU Board of Sustainability Director Jessica Scharf said she hopes this will continue.

“We’re looking into how we can expand that program over the next year,” she said in an interview, adding the board’s main goals for the 2008-2009 school year.

Recycling

The cooperation among students, faculty and administration that led to programs such as offsetting was the focus of former ASUU Board of Sustainability Director and future ASUU President Patrick Reimherr’s speech at the ceremony.

The ASUU Board of Sustainability fostered these bonds through its dedication to recycling during the school year.

“Our goal was to ingrain the importance of recycling in student minds,” Reimherr said. The Board promoted participation in the national Recyclemania competition, created an E-Waste program to dispose of old cell phones and ink cartridges and placed numerous recycling receptacles across campus during the school year.

Pollution

The U’s combined sustainability efforts produce an environmental benefit equal to planting 2,000 acres of trees per year, said John Mahoney, chief director of Chevron Energy Solutions — a group that worked closely with the U to develop the cogenerator system.

Before Young stepped to the podium, Mahoney applauded the U’s faculty and administration for their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Among its many efforts, the university’s EdPass program has provided students and faculty with easy access to public transportation for years, and 19 campus shuttles have been equipped to burn bio-diesel fuels.

Administrative actions such as these have been complemented by student groups such as the University Bike Collective. The collective, which hopes to open a permanent location on campus during the 2008-2009 school year, provides free bike maintenance on campus while setting its sights on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“The U is a notorious commuter school,” said Andrew Bergeson, co-director of the collective. “Alternative transportation is very important to curbing CO2 production.”

The efforts of students, faculty and administration have prepared the U to take on the challenge of complete climate neutrality: the goal of the President’s Climate Commitment.

Dianne Nielson, Energy Advisor for Governor Huntsman’s Energy Policy Program, watched from the crowd as Young signed a giant copy of the Commitment and raised giant scissors to cut a ribbon for the cogenerator.

“(The state’s) goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while sustaining economic development,” she said, as attendees flocked past to tour the new facility. “The University of Utah is leading by example.”

[email protected]