Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Cost of Carbon Neutrality

Members of the Green Campus Task Force at Lasell are debating what to recommend to President Alexander regarding climate initiatives on campus. The largest debate revolves around whether Lasell College is capable of becoming carbon neutral. I've had a chance to calculate our footprint and I can share some numbers. In 2007, Lasell College and Lasell Village combined to use over 6.5 kWh of electricity. We also used about 60,000 MMBtu of natural gas and 45,000 gallons of oil. I have not figured out how much gasoline we use in vehicles or energy costs of flying faculty and staff to events and conferences. Bottom line, our carbon footprint is over 8 million pounds of CO2 per year.

To become carbon neutral, we would have to eliminate or offset 8 million pounds of CO2 emissions. How can this be done? To start, we have to reduce our carbon footprint. Changing behavior alone could have a huge impact particular on electricity usage. Maybe 20%-30%? How about reducing the length of showers? We can install new windows and heating systems to improve efficiency. We can zone heating and make other improvements. We can invest in our campus to reduce our footprint as much as possible. Not only will we have a smaller footprint but it will save us money in the long run on as energy costs keep rising.

I began to wonder if we could generate all our electricity needs on site. I backed out some numbers and found that we would need an enormous system of about 5000 kW. We could definitely do some solar but that is a huge system. The cost would be in the tens of millions.

While we certainly can set reduction goals for energy use on campus, if we want to be carbon neutral, we are still probably going to have to buy renewable energy credits. Bonneville Environmental Foundation sells green tags for wind, solar or combination projects. Wind project tags are the least expensive at $20 per tag which offsets 1500 lbs of CO2. We would need about 5,500 tags per year to offset our current carbon footprint. This would cost $110,000 per year.

We need to first reduce our footprint as much as we can. Unfortunately, we are not going to be able to get our footprint to zero. Then we are going to have to make a difficult decision. If we want to be carbon neutral, are we willing to purchase offsets each year?

Students at other colleges have taken bold initiatives to address this question. For example, students at Southern Oregon University voted for a $15 per student fee to help offset their carbon footprint. How about it Lasell College students, would you vote in favor of a proposal to add a $15 carbon fee to your tuition?


Anonymous said...

YES! I would vote in favor of a $15 fee to reduce my carbon footprint. Bringing in the money factor is one way to get people's attention over the severity of our environment.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of $15. That's cheap, but I'd also like a way for people to get around that fee by doing something like volunteering to run a campus recycling program for a day or something. It's quite possible to save well over $15 by changing habits, and I'd rather see us save $15 on electricity and send that to purchase carbon offsets than add an extra $15. We should be focusing on our behaviour first instead of throwing money at the problem. Once we start saving money by reducing our electricity and heating costs we should then talk about donating an extra $15 to purchase carbon offsets.