According to members of the Michigan Student Assembly’s Environmental Issues Commission, it’s time for the University to hop on the renewable energy bandwagon.

The commission, which has spent much of the last year discussing environmental initiatives with University administrators, submitted last week a proposal with short-, medium- and long-term goals for the University’s use of renewable energy sources.

Less than 1 percent of the University’s energy currently comes from renewable sources.

The proposal asks that the University immediately begin to purchase about 3 percent of its current energy load in wind power. It asks that the University buy 30 percent of its power from a renewable energy source by 2015 and 100 percent of it in the long-term, which wasn’t defined any more specifically.

Rich Robben, the University’s executive director of plant operations, said it would be possible to achieve the short-term goal this year. He said the University would likely purchase Renewable Energy Certificates instead, meaning the University would pay for cleaner energy to be used elsewhere in the state.

Robben said he couldn’t speculate on the University’s future renewable energy use. The University administration doesn’t want to agree to a long-term contract with an energy company because of the industry’s volatile nature, he said.

“The industry is changing so dramatically right now that we could potentially go out and buy power and pay a real premium now and in a couple of years, it may not cost as much,” Robben said. “But see, we’ll be in a contract.”

LSA senior Chris Detjen, who chaired the commission when it began its talks with the University, said using cleaner energy sources would benefit more than the environment. “Green-collar” jobs in the environmental sector have been trumpeted as one way to ease Michigan’s economic woes by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, state economists and the Michigan Environmental Council.

The University would join a long list of colleges and universities nationwide pushing environmental issues to the forefront. Other schools turning to green energy include New York University, which is carbon-neutral, and Penn State University, which gets about 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

“The concern for climate change is more marketable than ever,” Detjen said.

Detroit Edison, the power plant from which the University buys most of its energy, offers a program called GreenCurrents, which provides all energy through a renewable source.

The University is negotiating with DTE on the cost of GreenCurrents.

“We want to get renewable energy,” said Robben. “We don’t want to spend an exorbitant amount on it.”

Alternative energy is normally more expensive than energy from conventional sources. If the University were to purchase the GreenCurrents program, it would pay about 2 to 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour – enough energy to power about ten 100-watt light bulbs for an hour. If the University were to buy 3 percent of its energy from GreenCurrents, that would translate to a cost increase of about $250,000 per year.

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