America’s Colleges: Raising the Bar on Green Power

It’s no big surprise that the environmentally friendly Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington is buying renewably generated "green power," but the appearance on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) annual top 10 list of schools like the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois is more eye-opening.

"We want to influence the country," says University of Pennsylvania Executive Director of Operations Mike Coleman. UPenn began in 2001 by signing a three-year, 20,000-megawatt-hour (MWh) contract to purchase wind energy, and then extended the contract to 40,000 MWh and an unprecedented 10 years in 2003.

This 120,000-MWh purchase ranks the University of Pennsylvania as the number one buyer of renewable energy among American universities, and number eight overall. The next largest buyer, Northwestern University, purchases 40,000 MWh. For the University of Pennsylvania, the green power is 28 percent of the school’s total usage, but some smaller schools have aimed higher. Two Washington State colleges in the top 10 buy 100 percent green: Western Washington University in Bellingham (35,000 MWh) and Evergreen State College (16,250).

"We purchase energy from Puget Sound Electric, which uses a combination of solar, wind and biomass," says Western Washington senior Molly Ayre-Svingen. She helped found Students for Renewable Energy in 2003, which helped place a 100 percent renewable energy initiative on the student ballot. After 85 percent of students voted in favor, the energy started flowing on the first day of the 2005 to 2006 school year. "When we wrote the proposal, we said green power would cost no more than $19 per quarter, per student, and it ended up being half that," says Ayre-Svingen.

Farther south at the Evergreen State College, a similar student-led effort got the windmills turning."We’re aiming for reductions in energy use, and we’re hoping to actually have green energy generation, such as windmills, on the campus," says Brad Bishop, a student and coordinator of the campus" Clean Energy Committee. CONTACT: Western Washington Students for Renewable Energy, home.htm. —Rachel Anderson