Op-ed: GW should improve its energy investment strategy

Eric Teller, Suzie Cole, Raquel Jones, Frank Fritz, Nikolas Michael, Nick Watkins and Annie Devita are Fossil Free GW organizers.

This month, GW will announce a formal response to 72 percent of students calling on their University to divest from fossil fuels in a record turnout election last spring. Regardless of what the University decides, it will continue to tout itself as a “model of urban sustainability,” yet under scrutiny, our record is far murkier.

In 2013, as part of a campaign to reduce the University’s carbon footprint, GW released a Request for Proposal to solicit plans from energy companies to purchase renewable energy. The initial plan was to choose a supplier who could provide energy to both GW and the D.C. government. The District signed a wind power agreement with Iberdrola S.A., a Spanish firm with the largest renewable asset base of any major global energy company.

In June 2014, GW, along with American University and GW Hospital, signed a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement with Duke Energy Renewables. The company funnels money into Duke Energy, a massive corporation with one of the worst environmental records in the United States. The capital produced by this subsidiary is used to prop up Duke’s primary operations, which by 2031 will still favor filthy coal power over wind and solar by a rate of nearly 10 to one.

We have already seen the results of centuries of backroom deals with fossil fuel companies, and GW has an obligation to do better. That is why in the next week, we will present the GW community with nine policy proposals to improve our investment strategy and make our University a true leader in sustainability.

GW has not chosen to explain why it broke from its initial plan to purchase power jointly with the District, and instead cooperated with a coal company known for criminal activity and anti-environmental lobbying. However, we know that Richard Blackburn, the former chief administrative officer of and general counsel to Duke Energy, sits on GW’s Board of Trustees.

This year, Duke faced legal charges for its destructive activities: In February, the company was indicted by a grand jury and ordered to pay over $100 million in penalties for criminal violations of the Clean Water Act related to the Dan River coal ash spill. In a brazen disregard for federal laws meant to protect Americans’ health and safety, Duke Energy released 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River. This resulted in the largest penalty ever issued under the CWA after the BP Oil Spill.

Duke Energy uses its high-level governmental influence to maintain a state-sponsored monopoly on power distribution in North Carolina. It uses this power to suppress smaller operations that attempt to establish their own renewable energy systems. This monopolistic system remains in only four states, and is protected by extensive lobbying on the part of the company.

Duke also operates DukePAC, a political organization which funnels millions of dollars to politicians at the state and federal level who have fought against clean energy and climate justice.

GW, in seeking to be “a model in urban sustainability,” has aligned itself with a company whose business actions go directly against these goals. While the University’s intentions are grounded in good faith, for it to truly show leadership, it must transcend the toxic relationships that have brought our climate into crisis, and look toward a fossil-free future.

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