In its 2017 list of the most environmentally friendly schools in the nation, the Sierra Club ranked GW at number 18. LEED certifications are found in many entryways, and placards that promote GW’s sustainability efforts are spread throughout campus. The University has come a long way in its sustainability efforts, but it’s time to do better, even if it costs us slightly more.
In June, former University President Steven Knapp signed a letter, along with more than 150 university presidents, as well as business leaders and politicians from across the country, committing to uphold the Paris Accord after President Donald Trump decided to withdraw the U.S. from it. The presidential administration’s decision has made GW’s promise even more important. At the beginning of a new school year, it’s time for the University to live up to its promise and continue to pursue ways of minimizing the University’s greenhouse gas footprint.
GW already receives about half of its energy from renewable solar sources, signing a 20-year contract with the Capital Partners Solar Project in 2014. The Project purchases solar power from Duke Energy Renewables, which now is providing GW, American University and GW Hospital, with a combined 53.5 Megawatts, or enough to power 8,900 homes. GW using 53 percent renewable energy is a promising start, but renewable costs have continued to decline. It is time that the University switch to 100 percent renewable energy.
Although the deal with Capital Partners Solar Project represents a substantial commitment to renewable energy, GW still relies on Washington’s primary utility provider – known as PEPCO – for the rest of their energy, with the exception of a few solar panels on campus, University spokesman Tim Pierce confirmed in an email this week. PEPCO sourced a dismal 5.9 percent of its power from renewable sources in 2014. In that same year, the nationwide average for renewable power generation was about 13 percent of total power, more than twice that of PEPCO’s.
Although PEPCO has said they are committed to protecting the environment, their Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability webpage seems to focus more on other issues – like working with policy makers, conducting research and building a better power grid – rather than installing more renewables.
Despite PEPCO’s shortcomings, GW cannot simply blame the utility as the culprit for the University’s environmental faults. D.C. has enacted policies that allow for energy choice. PEPCO manages all transmission lines in the District, but power can be purchased from hundreds of other companies in a competitive market. One hundred percent renewable plans can be purchased for commercial clients for as little as 18 percent more than PEPCO’s rates. This means that the University could immediately enroll with a renewable energy supplier, like Agera, to supplement the clean energy it already receives from the Capital Partners Solar Project without breaking the bank. Since the energy purchased on the market would only comprise of about half the total energy consumed by GW, this would increase total energy costs by as little as 9 percent, while making GW 100 percent alternative-energy powered. Although the cost of this change would likely be a large number, it’s a smart investment worth whatever the costs to make way for a more sustainable future.
GW’s commitment to the principles of the Paris Accord shouldn’t end there. The University could use its position as a major customer for PEPCO as leverage to encourage PEPCO to directly offer competitively priced, renewably sourced energy plans. Other utilities – like Pacific Gas & Electric in California – already provide customers the option of selecting 100 percent renewable energy on their monthly bills. PG&E’s renewable option likely plays a role in the utility producing an impressive 70 percent of its total energy from fossil fuel-free sources, and 45 percent of its energy using renewable means. PEPCO would feel more pressure to introduce renewable energy capacity if major clients, like GW, threatened to buy their power elsewhere.
The University’s existing efforts to source its energy from renewable sources are already quite impressive. GW should continue the commitment to sustainability it has shown with the Capital Partners Solar Project by purchasing the rest of its energy from renewable sources as well. If GW were a 100 percent renewably-powered campus, they could push other universities and organizations in the District to demand better from PEPCO or to switch to 100 percent renewable providers. The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord is a devastating blow to the environment. GW must back up its expressed commitment to the Accord, and switching to completely renewable power is an efficient and sensible way to do so.
Kendrick Baker, a senior double-majoring in political science and economics, is a Hatchet columnist. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.