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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Shooting a baseline
May 23, 2008 - 6:19pm

OK, so I've got the numbers. We've completed Greenback's greenhouse gas inventory for academic years 2001 - 2007. The report goes out to various groups and bodies on campus next month.

There aren't any huge surprises in it (one medium-sized one, which we'll discuss later). Running the buildings on campus is the biggest energy hog/CO2 emitter (by a lot), with transportation second. Other sources of emissions are trivial, by comparison.

In a sense, that's good. It means that mitigation approaches which have worked on other campuses will likely work here. And it means that internal marketing approaches which have worked on other campuses will, also, likely work here.

The first step, according to GASP (generally accepted sustainability principles -- mild accounting joke, there!) is to promote energy conservation. And the way to do that at Greenback (as the pseudonym implies) is by emphasizing cost savings. But savings compared to what?

Greenback's utilization of energy for operating buildings correlates pretty closely with how many buildings we're operating, and how big they are. But to create a commitment to energy conservation on campus, I want to baseline costs, not utilization. And future costs are harder to project.

First, utilization will likely increase. We're putting up new buildings, still. Not many, and not huge, but some. More square feet means more energy (regardless of how "green" the added square feet are).

Second, energy pricing is headed up. All the factors which have driven up electricity rates and gas prices in the past are still present. No changes there.

Finally, energy taxes are likely headed up. Whether it's a straightforward carbon tax (unlikely) or a cap-and-trade system (much more so), and regardless of whether it's paid directly (unlikely) or through the source (almost certainly) -- none of those details matters. Some sort of regulatory mechanism is coming, and it will impose costs. According to a webinar conducted yesterday under the auspices of the ACUPCC, the costs associated with emitting a marginal tonne of CO2 in regulated environments is about $US 24, and rising. Figure that across Greenback's energy budget, and we're talking well into seven figures, annually.

Sure, we might be able to avoid paying the tax by buying renewable energy which isn't subject to it, but every other consumer is going to be in the same situation. Pretty quickly, prices will more or less equalize. That's the idea.

So, the baseline against which future energy conservation savings can be calculated starts at our 2007 energy expense, and goes up from there. It gets incremented for campus growth. It gets incremented for projected increases in energy costs (aren't we glad we don't heat with oil?). And it gets incremented for regulatory costs (taxes), which are expected to increase (per unit consumption) over time.

Given that Greenback's energy expenditures are already into 8-figure territory, the "business as usual" cost baseline should look pretty scary. Conservation, and the savings that result, should be an easy sell.

I hope.


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