UMass needs to make the commitment to 100 percent renewable energy

UMass has a unique opportunity to begin the fight for carbon neutrality

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Caroline O’Connor / Daily Collegian

By Caroline Williams, Collegian Contributor

The effects of climate change are all around us: record-setting storms, raging wildfires and extreme droughts have impacted communities across the country and the world. The University of Massachusetts is a large contributor to fossil fuels in the Amherst area, and Massachusetts as a whole. From data compiled in 2017 by the Environmental Protection Agency, Hampshire County’s biggest polluters include the UMass Physical Plant building along with closed landfills in the area. UMass needs to make the commitment to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2032.

Climate science shows that the United States and other developed nations need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 if the world is to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. Some of the biggest contributors to climate change are fossil fuels, which we have been pumping into the atmosphere since the start of the industrial revolution. We do not have much time left to act before the impacts of climate change are irreversible. We have the power to harness clean, abundant energy from renewable sources so we can work toward a greener and healthier world.

UMass prides itself on being a sustainable campus, but has not yet made the commitment to 100 percent renewable energy. Amherst College, right next door, announced plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 through switching its energy system to renewables and UMass has taken steps to start the process of converting to carbon neutrality, it just is not following through.

In 2019, UMass launched the Carbon Mitigation Project to transition its energy infrastructure to zero net carbon emissions by the year 2032. The report has been completed and recommends a series of interventions for transitions over the next 11 years. Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy created a Carbon Mitigation Task Force composed of students, faculty and outside consultants. He then asked them to develop a feasibility study to figure out what it would take to get to 100 percent renewable energy. The administration has shown excitement and commitment to this plan, but the details around financing and implementation need to be worked out.

The CMP task force was the first step in this work — now it’s time to make a formal commitment. As Massachusetts’ flagship campus, UMass needs to “Be Revolutionary” and lead the way to a more sustainable future.

The UMass community wants this change. In 2019, 92 percent of UMass students voted to pass a referendum in support of a campus-wide transition to renewable energy. This past semester, MASSPIRG’s 100 percent renewable energy campaign gathered more than 3,000 petition signatures in support of the Clean Energy Act. Students are excited about the possibility of the transition to renewable energy, it is time for the administration to recognize this and work toward change.

UMass has made considerable progress over the past 20 years on becoming a more eco-friendly campus. The current central heating plant was completed in 2009, and it replaced the campus’ 80-year-old coal burning power plant, which reduced campus greenhouse emissions by 27 percent. Although this plant has helped reduce greenhouse emissions, it still runs on primarily natural gas. It is now time for the co-gen plant to be adjusted for renewable fuels. The Carbon Mitigation task force outlines the steps to the eventual decommission of the physical plant in order to switch the campus over to renewable energy. A major transition in how UMass is run has been done in the past, and can be done again. It is time to transition completely away from fossil fuels.

Climate change is the biggest problem facing this generation due to the reckless burning of fossil fuels. College campuses are a large source of carbon emissions, but they also are focal points of technology and innovation. UMass has a unique opportunity to begin the fight for carbon neutrality. It is time to take action and begin the process of making our campus more sustainable. It will be a long process, and it will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

Caroline Williams can be reached at [email protected].