Green Power Initiative
Students in Lewis & Clark’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) are making a strong commitment to renewable energy via their Green Power Initiative. Initially launched in 2003, the program expanded in 2010 to represent 100 percent of the power used by the undergraduate campus.
How It Works
In recent years, about 95 percent of CAS students have voluntarily devoted $20 each in annual fees to purchase enough Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to represent about 30 percent of CAS energy usage. To upgrade the campus commitment to 100 percent, students increased their fees to $85 annually starting in the 2010-11 school year; seven out of eight undergraduates decided to contribute this extra amount.
How RECs Help
What exactly do RECs do to help provide renewable energy to Lewis & Clark? The answer to this question is a bit complicated.
One reality any consumer of electricity must face is that we all get our energy from the same grid. In Portland, electricity is supplied by Portland General Electric, which manages a range of energy sources. About one-quarter of the energy PGE produces comes from natural gas, one-quarter from coal, one-quarter from hydropower, and roughly four percent from wind. The rest is purchased from other suppliers.
New renewable sources, currently a small fraction of this supply, have their pluses and minuses. One very big plus is that they contribute far fewer greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than traditional fossil fuel sources such as coal and natural gas. But some of these new renewable sources are intermittent, meaning they don’t supply energy in a steady manner. Wind generators, for example, work only when the wind is blowing. The current grid requires that more steady sources, such as natural gas or hydro power, be used to bolster these renewables.
So, why should Lewis & Clark students help buy RECs if they don’t really change the power received on campus, and if new renewable energy sources can’t currently be counted on to meet 100 percent of our energy needs?
The answer is that LC students are investing in a new energy future. RECs help companies that produce new renewable energy stay competitive in a marketplace where these new sources are typically far more expensive than traditional sources. By putting their money where their values are, students are contributing to a future where public support matched by technological innovation will result in new renewables supplying a much greater portion of the energy grid.
An investment representing 100 percent of the power consumed by the undergraduate campus also means that this amount of new renewable energy is currently being added to the nationwide grid as a result of Lewis & Clark’s Green Power Initiative. It’s not a big slice of the pie yet, and it’s a small fraction of the energy that arrives on the Lewis & Clark campus, but it’s a genuine contribution toward our shared future.
- Lewis & Clark’s Facilities Services division has taken big steps to promote energy conservation and efficiency on campus; this page summarizes their recent work. They also provide a set of energy links.
- A good readable review of the current U.S. power grid and the opportunities and challenges in developing smarter electrical grids for the future is found in this National Geographic article.
- Government action is one factor that is sure to bring change to the power source mix in the years ahead. For Portland General Electric, the Oregon Renewable Energy Act, passed in 2007, basically mandates that large utilities acquire at least 25 percent of their electricity from new renewable energy sources by 2025, including wind, solar, new hydro, biomass, wave energy, and other potential sources.
- Surpluses from the Green Power Initiative are placed in the Green Fee Fund and used for student-initiated green and sustainable grants. For more information see the Green Fee Fund program page.