No one wants to produce carbon emissions. For some, their environmental impact is intolerable; for everyone else, purchasing heating and electricity, a major source of carbon emission, is a financial burden. The process of achieving carbon neutrality, however, is not a rapid one. The high price and relative unavailability of the technology needed to achieve carbon neutrality makes it a slow process.
In the meantime, the college has adopted carbon offset credits as a means of minimizing the environmental impact of the carbon emissions it cannot avoid. The credits represent electricity produced without emissions through technologies like wind turbines. Anyone can purchase them and subtract the sustainable electricity they have financed from their carbon emissions.
The offsets pay for a company to put sustainable energy onto the national electrical grid and give the payee credit for having created that energy. “While the electricity delivered to Swarthmore’s outlets might not be coming directly from renewable sources, purchasing carbon offset credits means that somewhere more electricity from renewable sources is being provided to the power grid,” said KC Cushman ’12, a member of Earthlust, an environmental issues group on campus.
“[The credits] can be purchased by end users who do not have the wherewithal to put up a wind turbine or the location to develop a solar field, but who nonetheless want to contribute to carbon reduction,” said Ralph Thayer, Director of Maintenance for the college and a co-chair of the 2010-2011 sustainability committee in an email.
The college’s program of purchasing carbon offset credits began in 1997 after a lobbying effort by student groups, led by Earthlust, pressed the college to join the fight against global warming.
The college bought its first credit the following year, worth 175 megawatt hours, or about 2% of the campus’s electricity needs at the time. Since then, purchases have increased to 12,000 megawatt hours, 91% of the campus’s electricity needs. Thayer said that he hopes to see the percentage rise to 100% in the next year.
Even if that goal can be achieved, though, the college will still be producing carbon emissions.
“Energy efficiency and energy conservation is definitely more important (than purchasing carbon offset credits,” said Clara Fang, Swarthmore’s Environmental Sustainability Coordinator. “The credits don’t actually reduce the amount of energy, and we are paying additional money for them,” she added.
According to Thayer, Swarthmore pays a $.00102 per kilowatt hour premium on top of the cost of the electricity. It purchases the credits from Clean Source, a company that produces a combination of wind, biomass, hydro, and geothermal energy in the midwest region.
The credits only offset the college’s electricity emissions, not its natural gas footprint. Natural gas and electricity together give off 98% of the college’s emissions, according to Fang; electricity alone gives off approximately 58%.
Fang responded to the concern that carbon offset credits would allow the college to increase its carbon footprint from electricity without seeming any less “green” by noting that the college’s electricity purchases are on the decline.
She responded to another concern, that the college was “buying out its responsibility” to the environment with the credits, saying “we have to take responsibility to reduce our energy use. Just offsetting it is not solving the long-term problem; we have to avoid emitting.”
Earthlusts’s website, however, notes that there are benefits inherent in the purchase of offset credits. “In addition to putting less carbon into the atmosphere, [the purchase of credits] will support the renewable energy market, especially in the current economic climate when investment in renewable energy technologies is way down, thereby making an important impact in terms of leadership as well as ethical responsibility.”
Powered by Facebook Comments