Yale officials announced Tuesday that the University aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent below its 1990 levels over the next 15 years.
Environmental experts from inside and outside the Yale community praised the University’s new strategy, but members of the Yale Energy Task Force and some student groups said there is still room for improvement. Administrators chose to ignore a recommendation that it set the goal of purchasing 20 percent of its energy through renewable resources by 2010, claiming that such an aim would not necessarily serve the larger goal of emissions reduction.
Yale President Richard Levin, who sent an e-mail about the new emissions goals to the Yale community yesterday, said in an interview that the first step in reducing greenhouse gases will be to promote education and outreach among campus groups. Yale will also begin investigating ways to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and will consider using alternative energy sources such as biodiesel fuel, he said. The University did not adopt the renewable resources goal specifically, Levin said, because it is secondary to the larger goal of reducing emissions.
“We did not commit to the second policy target, the direct use of renewables,” Levin said. “The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The instrument you use is less important.”
The cost of the emissions reduction initiative would likely be between $150,000 and $250,000 per year, Vice President for Finance and Administration John Pepper said.
“It’s an investment,” Pepper said. “How much it eventually costs is going to depend on how technology develops.”
Much of the expense incurred during the project will be offset by conservation measures on campus, Pepper said. Specific targets are a 10 percent reduction in energy consumption at Yale facilities and a 15 percent reduction over the next three years for all residential colleges. Yale will invest in renewable energy certificates in proportion to the energy conserved as an incentive for environmentally conscious students to reduce their energy use, Associated Director of Utilities Sam Olmstead said.
Pepper said he expects Yale will naturally shift to 20 percent renewable energy consumption as it strives for the 2020 emissions goal.
Sustainability Director Julie Newman said she thinks the new initiative will provide a model for other universities.
“Yale has now raised the bar for other higher education institutions to step forward and respond to the call for greenhouse gas reduction, energy conservation and renewable energy use,” Newman said.
But Merrilee Harrigan, director of education for the national organization Alliance to Save Energy, said that while Yale’s new policy will put it on the map alongside other environmentally progressive universities, it is not the first to take a step towards sustainability.
“It looks like they are taking quite a leadership role,” she said. “I think this program is starting in exactly the right place, energy efficiency and conservation. They are in a small group of campuses, but they aren’t at the forefront.”
Regents and administrators at the University of California campuses have adopted a sustainability policy, while Harvard has allocated $100,000 per year for renewable energy initiatives. The University of Pennsylvania is currently the largest private employer in the country harnessing wind energy, which makes up 10 percent of its total energy use, said UPenn Director of Real Estate Services Tony Sorrentino.
Andrew Cedar ’06, a former member of the Yale Energy Task Force, said that while he is enthusiastic about Yale’s proposed initiative, he would prefer that the administration adopt a specific goal for sustainable energy use. Ensuring that a significant portion of the University’s consumption comes from renewable resources would help to bolster the emerging industry, he said.
“You’re going to have energy needs forever, so the more you can get renewable sources to replace fossil fuels, the better,” Cedar said. “By encouraging the business, Yale’s participation in that sector would encourage its growth, allowing the prices of renewable energy to come down to a slightly more reasonable level.”
The administration assembled the Yale Energy Task Force last year to examine the University’s energy policy and make recommendations for its improvement. The committee included professors from the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies as well as administrators and students.
Olmstead said the energy certificates will provide impetus for students to participate in energy conservation by showing that individual responsibility can impact larger goals.
“It’s a partnership between the University on the procurement side and the end users on the community side,” Olmstead said. “We’re going to use less, and we’re going to buy smart.”
But although Cedar said he supports the purchase of energy credits, he said he is skeptical that they will be sufficient incentives for conservation.
While individuals and groups have historically promoted conservation on campus, the new initiative will require institutional unity and commitment, School of Forestry Dean Gus Speth said in a statement released yesterday.
“Achieving Yale’s goal will require real commitment from all of us — including cultural change here on campus. We’ve all got to become far more energy conscious,” he said.
Environment studies professor Daniel Esty, who helped negotiate U.S. environmental policy at the Environmental Protection Agency in the early 1990s, said Yale’s new initiative surpasses international standards set by the Kyoto Protocols, which the United States has rejected.
The rising price of oil provides an optimal window of time to embark on a conservation campaign, he said.
“The good news is that this commitment dovetails very nicely with the potential opportunity to save money by investing in energy efficiency,” he said. “The payoffs are much higher today with than they might have been last year.”
Yale power plant emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that furthers global warming, more than doubled between 1998 and 2004, according to a report released in April by the University Advisory Committee on Environmental Management.