In the spring of 2011, the University of Minnesota’s Sustainability Committee released a Climate Action Plan that laid out steps required to reduce carbon emissions and eventually achieve carbon neutrality (net-zero carbon emissions). Achieving a future state of carbon neutrality will be no easy task, but reducing emissions year-to-year is definitely a goal worth working toward. I admire the steps set forth in the plan, but we can do more to reach our goals. What is preventing us from adopting renewable energy technologies? In order to make real progress, we also need the right state and federal policies to spur investment and growth.
If the University wants to achieve a state of carbon neutrality or at least reduce emissions, it must invest in new technology. All forms of energy require significant investments, but with the correct public policies, we can make sure those investment dollars stay close to home. Minnesota imports more than $20 billion in dirty energy each year, much of it from foreign nations. The status quo is harming our environment, our economy and our national security.
University President Eric Kaler should look closely at the opportunity to invest in solar energy. Solar energy is clean, safe, proven and potentially available on every rooftop. Additionally, the price of many solar energy technologies is declining rapidly and expected to continue to decline, unlike many other energy technologies.
As a student of environmental science, I have learned about the potential costs and impacts associated with solar photovoltaic production. However, the continual decline in price of solar technology is due in part to better technology and the need to use less material for production. The fact that panels are becoming more efficiently produced and require no raw material feedstock for energy generation makes them an attractive option over other energy sources.
If the University were to adopt solar energy on a broad scale, we could address our institution’s most important energy challenge — our dependence on fossil fuels. We would also boost the state’s economy and create jobs we need. These jobs would include design and engineering, installation, material and component manufacturing, as well as business and finance aspects of the industry. These are jobs that many students hope to secure once they have graduated from the University.
School systems are already taking advantage of solar power. According to CNN, the San Ramon Valley Unified School District has installed 10,000 panels to power five different schools in California. This new system is one of 90 solar projects in California, many of which are at colleges. Installing the panels requires an investment, but once paid for, it saves the school system $2-4 million per year on energy, dollars that could be invested to reduce costly tuition or to hire more teachers. These are just a couple of possible benefits from solar energy savings that would support the development of our own institution.
The University should join the Solar Works for Minnesota Coalition that includes more than 125 businesses, unions and nonprofits already working to create policies that boost solar energy in Minnesota. Working with others, our university can make solar energy work and will save money that can be put to use elsewhere as the institution grows and expands. More importantly, my generation and those to follow are counting on us to ensure that our planet is healthy and safe. As a leader in innovation and a role model to surrounding communities, the University must take part in developing a clean energy future.
Matt Domski is a University student. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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