Drive to reduce pollution begins

Yale’s new greenhouse gas reduction strategy, announced last week, has inspired a flurry of activity among student groups and administrative departments who are working to cut University greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent before 2020.

In the past few days, faculty and staff have begun to take advantage of a new carpooling incentive program, and the administration is completing development of an interactive Web site — to launch next week — where officials can post current data on Yale’s energy consumption levels. The University is also advancing plans to install solar power panels by the end of the year. Students and administrators said the strategy has inspired an unprecedented level of collaboration among student environmental groups in the past few days, but it will likely be years before Yale sees any significant change in emissions.

Provost Andrew Hamilton said this week’s widespread efforts are the first step in Yale’s 15-year strategy.

“We set ourselves a critically important but nonetheless challenging goal,” Hamilton said. “This initiative represents a truly broad university partnership.”

Energy Manager Thomas Downing said Yale plans to install its first solar panels on Fisher Hall at the Divinity School by the end of December. The array, which will be the largest in the Ivy League, will meet about two thirds of the building’s energy needs.

Though the solar panels — which would total $330,000 — will eventually turn a profit, at first they will primarily serve as a demonstration to students, Downing said. The Divinity School generator will not employ ground-breaking technology, he said, but the infrastructure it creates will allow the University to install more advanced panels in later years.

“We want to put ourselves in a position where we can take advantage of these emerging technologies as they develop and enter the marketplace,” Downing said.

The University is delaying wider use of existing solar power technology, Downing said, so as not to “bet the farm” on current models. But a spokeswoman for Farmingdale State University of New York, which has the east coast’s largest university solar array, said the school has had success investing in current photovoltaic equipment.

Yale’s solar panel installation is pending a response from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, which Downing expects will subsidize more than half of the cost. The University is also exploring options in wind power and biodiesel fuel, he said. The University has been testing particulate filters on shuttle buses that may use biodiesel fuel this semester, Associate Vice President for Administration Janet Lindner said.

The new carpooling program, announced last week, will provide discounts of up to 75 percent on parking fees for faculty and staff who share a car. The plan also provides a “guaranteed ride home” for emergencies or other complications. Lindner said although the carpool program stemmed directly from Yale’s sustainability effort, it will likely also improve parking and traffic on campus.

Christine Perez, a senior administrative assistant in the human resources department, said the new parking fee discount motivated her to carpool for the first time.

“Driving, parking, and the environment all seem to be issues that came up in meetings and casual conversation recently,” Perez said. “The Yale community has really been looking for something like this for a while, and now that it’s come, I do think they’ll utilize it.”

But Terry Little, a Branford dining hall employee, said she does not believe the effort to encourage environmental awareness has reached all levels of Yale’s staff.

“Nobody here is talking about the environment,” she said. “I don’t even think they know what’s going on.”

The administration is also working with student activists to encourage conservation on campus by increasing collaboration among previously disparate environmental groups, said Sustainability Director Julie Newman.

“Yale’s commitment to the strategy has brought the various student groups together for the first time to figure out how to engage students,” she said.

Whitney Haring-Smith ’07, executive director of New Haven Action, said his organization is working more extensively with the Yale Climate Campaign, Yale Environmental Council and other groups on campus in light of the new emissions initiative.

Newman said six student groups have participated in two meetings on student involvement in the greenhouse gas reduction strategy. She said she expects the organizations to settle on a comprehensive approach by next week.

For every 5 percent reduction in each residential college’s energy use, Yale will offset one-third of the college’s total electricity consumption by purchasing renewable resources, to promote the emissions reduction strategy. The University will also hold competitions with awards for the most environment-friendly colleges, Downing said.

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