The University of California has come so far, but if we don’t act now we may lose the race. The regents are on the verge of adopting a clean energy and green building standard that will make the University a national leader in innovation. It could, however, be defeated if students don’t act now to show their support for UC’s environmental leadership.
Last fall, through the passage of student government resolutions on all nine UC campuses, the student body sent a clear message to the UC Regents: “Pass a strong clean energy and green building policy this year.” Endorsements followed from important faculty and administration and government officials, including Aileen Adams, the secretary of California’s State & Consumer Services Agency, and Lt. Gov. Cruz M. Bustamante.
Specifically, students called on the UC to lead the way in environmental responsibility through a systemwide policy that mandates the following: 1) All new or significantly renovated buildings be equipped with on-site clean energy generation – primarily solar panels – to produce at least 25 percent of the building’s demand. 2) 25 percent of the UC’s energy demand be met through the purchase of clean energy from power suppliers. 3) New buildings meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver standards for green buildings, as developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. These standards minimize the environmental impact of buildings through common-sense construction and advanced design.
In response to the unanimous student government support for the standards, the regents, through the Committee on Grounds and Buildings, instructed the UC Office of the President to take the lead on studying the options and propose a clean energy and green building policy to the regents by this May. The study is done and the policy is in the works.
A sneak preview shows both good and bad news. On the upside, the study shows that the University can site 11 megawatts of new solar panels on buildings to power 25 percent of the peak demand from new buildings. It also says that the UC can immediately switch to 10 percent clean energy through purchases with minimal additional cost and then ramp up to 20 percent clean energy by the year 2017, keeping pace with the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, passed last year. Finally, the study shows that meeting LEED standards is within the UC’s reach.
The bad news is we are now seeing feet-dragging and backsliding at the top, putting in peril the sustainability standard that our University deserves. The committee, charged with developing a policy, is now looking to only submit a general framework to the regents that embraces the principles of clean energy and green buildings, but sets no targets or timelines.
Another option the committee is considering is to submit an implementation plan that would have targets and timelines but wouldn’t even get into the regents’ hands until October. This is unacceptable considering that the committee has completed its studies and has all the information it needs to develop a policy.
The pivotal players who can now make this sustainability promise a reality are the vice chancellors on each UC campus. Their leadership in pushing for a strong policy to benefit their campuses on a tight timeline – by this May as mandated by the regents – will make the difference between business as usual and a green light for environmental responsibility and innovation.
We need to let our vice chancellors and the UCOP staff know that we want this policy in place before classes end. Our actions now will make all the difference for our campuses and the environment in the long run.
Isabel Millan is Associated Students’ external vice president for statewide affairs.