University green projects getting red light during economic uncertainty

By Sarah Small

With the creation of the Office of Sustainability in fall 2008, environmental concerns have found a home on campus. However, with budget uncertainties, the University cannot afford to be as ambitious as originally planned.

The cost of energy, installing wind turbines and other sustainable projects has increased significantly, causing the University to embark on smaller scale projects.

In 2005, the University embarked on another environmentally friendly project, for which a trio of wind turbines would be purchased and installed on a southern region of campus. The turbines would supply about 1 percent of the University’s energy to a small portion of campus.

However, the final contracts with supplier General Electric were never completed, and the Board of Trustees, citing a lack of funds, announced a postponement of the project during its January 2009 meeting.

“The cancellation was just a big surprise to everyone,” said Suhail Barot, chair of the student sustainability committee. “If this had been set up earlier, people would have understood a postponement, but (there was) not a negotiation effort.”

This would have been the first project funded by the Clean Energy and Technology student fee.

Barot said students committed $300,000 to the project, and later, the president’s office and the office of the chancellor each contributed $500,000 to fund the project.

“Its very disheartening,” said Dan Weber, student senator and a candidate for student trustee running on a sustainability platform. “Administration sat on their hands, and by the time we were finished, it cost too much money.”

Barot said he does not know what will happen with the project, but he said students who worked closely with the project are very unhappy and are still working for the University to move forward with the project again.

“Chancellor chose his words carefully, that it is postponed, not canceled,” Associate Chancellor Bill Adams said.

He said before the University can more forward with this project, it must resolve other financial issues. The University must focus on how much money it will get from the state and how these funds will affect student tuition rates.

“The issues has been less about turbine than (the administration) spent all the money, said (it was) moving forward, and then killed it on reading day,” Adams said.

The only way the University would be able to handle the cost of wind turbines would be to buy only one turbine.

Adams said purchasing one turbine at this time was not a logical decision to make from a financial and efficiency perspective.

“The price for one wind turbine had skyrocketed,” Adams said. “And one doesn’t really make a lot of sense. With three it really did seem more feasible.”

Whether the decision to postpone the project makes sense, students involved in bringing the wind turbine to campus view the administration’s decision as a broken promise.

Although the cancellation of the wind turbine project disappointed some students, the opening of the more than $60 million Business Instructional Facility was an environmentally friendly beacon of hope for campus.

While the cost of the building was significant, the University began the project long before budgetary concerns became a serious issue.

Since the new building opened at the beginning of the fall 2008 semester, hundreds of business students have passed through its doors to attend their classes scheduled in the building and to take advantage of the quiet space to study.

Steve Ward, a junior in accounting, said he spends several days per week there, and the Business Instructional Facility often takes the place of a library for him when he goes there to study.

Despite the high costs of sustainability, the University is still working toward going “green.”

But until administrators have an understanding of state contributions and the University budget for the upcoming year, it can only move forward with small scale projects.

“I think it’s a good use of our money,” said Kelsy Debord, a junior in accounting. “If we’re going to build new buildings, we might as well make them environmentally friendly.”