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UC, Morken powered by wind turbines

January 11, 2008

UC, Morken powered by wind turbines

As of Jan. 1, nearly 20 percent of the university’s energy is being purchased from renewable sources. The commitment to purchase “green” energy stems from the culture of the university, said Dave Kohler, director of facilities. Renewable energy is energy generated from natural sources that cannot be depleted, like wind and solar power.

He points to the university’s mission to “care for the earth,” President Anderson’s signing of the Presidents Climate Commitment last January and PLU’s master planning documents.

“It’s been a focus of PLU even before we wrote it down,” Kohler said. “That’s the culture. It’s the best thing about PLU.”

The construction of the Morken Center for Learning and Technology essentially launched the idea to purchase renewable energy, Kohler explained.

PLU designed the environmentally friendly building based on the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. The program certifies green buildings, evaluating them in five credit areas and awarding points.

One of those credit areas was a two-year commitment to purchase energy from renewable sources. Through Parkland Light and Water, the university contracted with the Bonneville Power Administration to purchase energy from a renewable source, namely wind.

The University Center renovation provided another opportunity to incorporate LEED principles into the project. Among other sustainable features, the decision was made to also purchase renewable energy for the building.

Five wind turbine projects located in Washington, Oregon and Wyoming feed the electrical grid that disperses energy to PLU. While PLU may not actually use the renewable energy, someone else in the grid will. By purchasing green energy, the university is supporting producers of renewable energy and strengthening the market, Kohler said.

The UC and Morken Center use almost 20 percent of the university’s total energy. That 20 percent number qualified PLU to sign on to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership.

“It identifies organizations that are making the conscientious effort to look at renewable power, who are supporting renewable power,” Kohler explained.

There is an additional cost for this environmental stewardship with the cost of renewable energy running more than half a cent higher per kilowatt-hour. A kilowatt is equal to 1,000 watts. To put it in perspective, a typical household incandescent light bulb uses about 40 to 100 watts.

The university consumes around 17 million kilowatt-hours a year, and that cost definitely impacts the budget, Kohler said. But he believes the cost is worth it.

“You always look at all the things you want to achieve,” he explained. “Is it money driven?”

In order to reach the goal of PLU’s master plan – to become carbon neutral by 2020 – active steps need to be taken. Supporting renewable energy is just one of those steps, Kohler said.

University Communications staff writer Megan Haley compiled this report. Comments, questions, ideas? Please contact her at ext. 8691 or at Photo of the Stateline Wind Project in Walla Walla County, Wash., and Umatilla County, Ore., provided by Renewable Northwest Project.