Nicholas School Buys Energy Credits


In an effort to promote environmental stewardship, the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences has purchased $19,718 of renewable energy certificates from a wind farm in Kansas to offset its use of electricity generated from fossil fuels. Nicholas follows the example set by the Pratt School of Engineering: In February, Dean Kristina Johnson pledged that 100 percent of the new Fitzpatrick Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine, and Applied Sciences building's energy consumption would be offset.

Renewable energy certificates are credits that individuals, institutions, or businesses can buy to compensate for the amount of nonrenewable, greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels they burn in their vehicles, homes, offices, or other facilities.

Buying the certificates--touted by advocates as "the next best" thing in areas like North Carolina that have no "clean" energy available--helps subsidize the cost for wind farms, solar farms, or other renewable energy producers to generate an equivalent amount of clean energy and put it back into the national power grid. While the school is not buying the energy itself, it is buying the attributes of that energy, explains William H. Schlesinger, James B. Duke Professor of biogeochemistry and dean of the Nicholas School. "Buying these certificates is a way of putting our money where our mouth is." The school bought the certificates from Gray County Wind Farm, the largest wind farm in Kansas.

"All told, we're offsetting about 16.5-million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions," says Becca Ryals, a second-year master's of environmental management student who worked with school administrators, staff members, and student groups to spearhead the purchase. "That's equivalent to taking about 1,500 gas-powered cars off the road for a year." The Fitzpatrick Center's program offsets an additional 20-million pounds annually.

Ryals says the idea to buy the certificates grew, in part, out of Nicholas students' involvement in the Duke University Greening Initiative (DUGI), a project aimed at enhancing environmental sustainability campus wide. "The dean, the staff, and the students all agreed that purchasing this energy should be a high priority for a school of the environment," Ryals says, "but we didn't want it to cut into funds earmarked for scholarships, research, or other priorities."

A survey conducted over the summer showed that 92 percent of Nicholas School students supported the purchase of renewable energy certificates from the school's discretionary fund.

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