If Yale can develop a cleaner image, we’ll all breath easier

New Haven residents have long organized around improving local air quality. Tonight, concerned citizens from all parts of the city will gather in a community meeting to discuss how renewable energy can be used in New Haven to address air pollution and global climate change. Mayor DeStefano has already voiced public support for New Haven’s participation in climate protection measures. The goal of tonight’s meeting will be to get the mayor and the Board of Alderman committed to getting 20 percent of New Haven’s energy from renewable sources by 2010.

And tonight’s gathering won’t even be the first such local meeting on combating climate change in the past week. Last Friday, city officials, students, faculty, and facility staffs, representing towns and universities from all over the state, convened in New Haven for the Connecticut Campuses for Climate Action conference. The group explored how municipalities and universities in Connecticut could reduce their fossil fuel and greenhouse gas emissions.

Yale should be at the forefront of this exciting movement, to which our local community and fellow Connecticut universities and neighbors have already shown a commitment. Yale can demonstrate cooperation and leadership by joining the New Haven campaign for 20 percent Renewable Energy by 2010. As a big energy consumer with a large endowment, Yale is in a unique position to make a difference in the renewable energy sector in Connecticut. And the fact that Yale generates a portion of its power on campus — and therefore contributes to local air pollution — makes the University all the more accountable for community efforts in climate protection and air quality. From a political and environmental standpoint on both the local and global level — the time to make such a commitment is now.

Renewable energy is a hot topic because of our current military involvement in Iraq. Whatever one thinks of the war — it seems obvious that we need to reduce our dangerous dependence on Middle Eastern oil. The real alternative is not to drill in the Alaskan wilderness or increase domestic coal production, since more use of fossil fuels will contribute to global climate change as well as exacerbate asthma and respiratory illnesses. The only sustainable solution is increasing our use of renewable energy.

In Connecticut, however, things are moving backwards. A few months ago, the national green power provider Green Mountain pulled out of Connecticut, citing unfavorable legislation and regulations that made the state an unfriendly market for renewable energy. Two funds paid for by electricity customers to promote renewable energy and conservation efforts in the state, the Clean Energy Fund and Conservation Load Management Fund, might be raided by the state government in the wake of the state budget cuts. The future of climate protection and renewable energy development rests on organizing at the local level to convince politicians that these issues are of concern to their constituents. Promoting renewable energy is definitely a challenge, but big customers like Yale have the potential to bring publicity and clout to this effort.

While Connecticut doesn’t have much in the way of solar or wind power, Yale can still support renewable energy. Tradable Renewable Certificates, also known as “green tags,” are the newest tool for encouraging renewable energy given that different regions of the country are blessed with varying capacities for renewable energy production. These green tags allow consumers in any part of the country to support renewable projects wherever they happen to be located. Through green tag purchases, distant customers pay the “green premium” — the differential cost of renewable energy. Since some of Connecticut’s air quality problems are the result of pollution from upwind states, Yale could even use these green tags to improve air quality locally. By purchasing green tags for wind production in Ohio or Pennsylvania, we could reduce fossil fuel-generated power in those states while also reducing the pollution that would migrate to Connecticut. Most importantly, large green tag purchases by Connecticut institutions would also demonstrate a local demand for renewable energy, and this would encourage local efforts to exploit local renewable energy sources such as methane and biomass.

A few weeks ago the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Environmental Management accepted proposals to be paid for by its million-dollar Green Fund. The energy subcommittee submitted a modest proposal to purchase green tags for around 2.5 percent of the University’s total energy consumption. This proposal reflects the fact that the Green Fund’s million dollars must be stretched to accommodate all environmental projects in the entire university. But with other local colleges such as Connecticut College purchasing green tags for 22 percent of their energy, it is a no-brainer that Yale should at the very least fund this initial request, and then move beyond it. Instead of relying on the Green Fund’s limited spending capacity, Yale should incorporate green tag purchases into the general budget, and commit to purchasing 20 percent of the University’s energy from renewable sources or green tags by 2010.

In light of the recent labor strife, Yale-New Haven relations are extremely strained. As growing community support for the 20 percent Renewable Energy by 2010 campaign shows, New Haven residents sincerely want to reduce the city’s contribution to global warming and improve air quality. Joining the 20 percent by 2010 campaign represents a unique opportunity for Yale to develop a cleaner image and participate in a local campaign to make New Haven and the world a better place to live in.

Jude Joffe-Block and Andrew Kroon are both juniors in Berkeley College.