CSU students lead charge for university to sign renewable electricity pledge

Tony Frank students climate pledge signing Jan 2017
CSU students Ben Newsom, Maggie Gilman, Robby Maldonado, Manny Santistevan, Daniela Pineda Soraca, Alex Hurtado and Kaori Keyser with President Tony Frank. Photo: Chase Baker

Surrounded by students, Colorado State University President Tony Frank signed a pledge Jan. 25 to commit the university to being powered by 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030.

More than 4,300 students, faculty and staff had signed a petition encouraging the university to consider the pledge. Faculty, staff and students from The President’s Sustainability Committee, Live Green Teams, and the Green Guard also endorsed the pledge.

Frank joked that the large number of petitions received by the President’s office in recent months — a record — made it difficult for the topic to be forgotten. But that was not the only reason he signed the pledge, he added.

“Petitions are one thing,” Frank said. “That indicates that there’s a strong level of support out there, and it encourages us to take a hard look at things. As a university, our approach to things related to energy, the environment and sustainability has never been to just hop on the latest bandwagon.”

Instead, he and university leaders asked the question: Does it make long-term sense for us?

The answer: Yes, it does.

Potential impact

In 2016, generation of electricity accounted for more than 50 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions for the main, Foothills and South campuses. Electricity costs are projected to increase from the current $12 million each year to more than $30 million in 20 years.

University officials had already been focused on this issue before the petition drive was launched. The university was exploring solutions to these rising costs, including the purchase of long-term renewable electricity to limit rate increases and potentially save millions of dollars per year in the future.

The university is also already using electricity from renewable sources, with 13 solar arrays installed on all campuses. These arrays provide more than 10 million kWh per year, or the equivalent of providing electricity for over 1,150 homes in Fort Collins.

“CSU has established itself as a leader on sustainability, and we are in a position to make this commitment now,” said Carol Dollard, energy engineer and co-chair of the President’s Sustainability Committee.

The university is the first institution in the world to achieve platinum status – the highest possible – under the STARS rating system, an independent program that measures comprehensive sustainability efforts at more than 700 universities across the globe.

“It’s a good idea for CSU because we can be a catalyst for change,” said Maggie Gilman, a sophomore in the Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources who helped lead student support for the commitment. “We could be one of the top universities to sign a climate commitment regarding renewable energy. It’s great to be a part of an environment that’s working.”

CSU joins Plymouth State University in New Hampshire in signing the pledge, which is sponsored by The Climate Reality Project. Across the nation and around the world, cities are committing to similar pledges for financial and environmental reasons.

In March 2015, the City of Fort Collins adopted a Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2030, and achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

Colorado State’s Climate Action Plan, originally adopted in 2010, also committed the university to climate neutrality by 2050.

Responsibility to taxpayers

In signing the pledge, Frank detailed CSU’s responsibility to the taxpayers of the state of Colorado as well as the students at the university.

Tony Frank signs climate pledge Jan 25 2017
President Tony Frank signed a pledge Jan. 25 to commit the university to being powered by 100 percent renewable electricity. Photo: Chase Baker

“We want to be really thoughtful about balancing the best long-term fiscal approaches and the short-term as well,” he said. “We really think this makes sense for Colorado State in financial terms and it’s completely in line with our leadership in the environmental area.”

Daniela Pineda Soraca, president of the Associated Students of CSU and a junior in the College of Business, described the university’s decision as “heartwarming and inspirational.”

“I’m glad the student voice was represented and was taken into account,” she said. “I look forward to continuing the journey of having CSU be a leader in environmental sustainability of not only our local community but this nation and the world,” Pineda Sorca added.

Tom Satterly, associate vice president for Facilities Management, said the pledge affirms CSU’s leadership and continued commitment to sustainability. “The pledge ensures responsible use of our valuable resources, both natural and financial,” he said.

Manny Santistevan, a freshman in the College of Liberal Arts who was also involved in gathering petitions, said the president’s decision to sign the pledge was a pleasant surprise.

“The fact that he was able to sit down and consider all the petitions and all the work that’s being done on campus, and commit to the pledge, is great news and a great step forward for our university,” he said.

As he closed out the gathering, President Frank told students that signing the pledge was an important step for the university, but that there’s more work that needs to be done.

“You did good work today,” he said. “Thank you.”

Learn more about CSU’s sustainability efforts through the university’s green website.