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Jan. 20, 2011 Volume 32, No. 16

MU releases climate plan with long-range goal of carbon neutrality


Initial phase will reduce emissions by 20 percent

In the first phase of a new five-year climate action plan, the University of Missouri expects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2015.

The plan, released late last week, is the latest in a series of commitments the university made in Nov. 2009, when Chancellor Brady J. Deaton joined higher education leaders across the country in acknowledging that global warming is real and largely caused by humans. To date, more than 600 colleges and universities, including MU, have signed on to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment to eliminate carbon emissions from campus operations.

“Schools are being asked to lead the way on carbon reduction so we can learn and show the rest of society how to do it cost effectively and in ways that fit our culture,” said Steve Burdic, MU’s sustainability coordinator.

Burdic said MU has reduced carbon emissions nearly 8 percent since 2008, the baseline for the climate action plan’s goals. MU’s energy use is projected to remain flat, or increase only slightly, over the next five years. But a new biomass boiler that goes online at the MU Power Plant in 2012 will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the plan. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded the MU Power Plant an Energy Star Combined Heat and Power Award in 2010 for its energy efficiency.

Energy conservation measures begun 20 years ago have laid some of the groundwork for the climate plan, Burdic said. The university has upgraded heating and ventilation systems, installed energy-efficient lighting and occupancy censors and implemented sustainable energy standards in new construction and renovation projects.

A real-time energy usage system called Dashboard was expanded last fall to nine residence halls. All of the campus’s buildings are metered, which allows the university to determine if energy usage has increased.

The proactive approach has paid off. While Education & General building space has grown 32 percent since 1990, energy usage has decreased 13 percent per square foot and greenhouse gas emissions are down 39 percent.

Burdic said these efforts save MU about $6.8 million a year in energy costs.

“Every time we see an opportunity to save some money, we’re doing it, ” he said.

Burdic described the 40-page climate document as a “rolling five-year plan” that will be reviewed annually with the Campus Master Plan. While the ultimate goal is carbon neutrality, when MU will reach that goal and how it goes about it are still largely unknown, Burdic said. For one thing, the university will continue to evaluate the feasibility of alternative energy sources, such as solar photovoltaic and wind power. MU is also looking at the costs and benefits of burning more natural gas in place of coal.

Switching to natural gas would cut greenhouse gas emissions in half, Burdic said, but it would cost $10 million to $20 million a year to make the transition from coal. And committing to technologies such as solar and wind now could prevent MU from implementing cheaper and more efficient sustainability measures later.

“These are the kind of choices we’re looking at right now,” he said. “That’s why we’re reluctant to put an end date on this and talk about anything specific beyond what we’re already doing.”

Burdic said the success of the climate action plan will depend on the commitment of students, faculty and staff to carbon neutrality. He and other sustainabilty leaders on campus will release a summary of the plan in March that will suggest ways in which individuals can conserve energy. He’s also hoping that by emphasizing sustainability in the classroom, MU’s academic community will generate new ideas down the road.

“I’m convinced the University of Missouri, with the research that’s going on here, is going to come up with the next fuel source that is carbon neutral,” he said. “So we have to get people involved and get their input.”