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Green energy fee comes to student referendum


As part of USF student enrollment fees, every student currently pays $1 per credit hour for the university’s Green Energy Fee.

This fee collects in the Student Green Energy Fund (SGEF), which USF then uses to fund sustainability efforts and renewable energy technologies and practices on campus, Kebreab Ghebremichael, director of USF’s Office of Sustainability, said.

“We strive to make USF one of the greenest campus in the U.S.,” Ghebremichael said. “The green energy fund is helping in realizing that.”

However, when the SGEF was approved by the Florida Board of Governors in 2011, a limitation of three years was placed on the fee, which can be renewerd by a student referendum vote. 

The green fee, which has been used to fund dozens of projects on campus ranging  from water bottle filling stations to environmentally friendly light bulbs, will be placed on the ballot for renewal during this year’s general student body elections at the end of the month.

When the original referendum passed in 2011, 70 percent of students voted in favor of it.

At the time, students groups such as the Student Environmental Association (SEA) advocated for the fee. Current SEA President William Wysong, a senior majoring in environmental science and policy, said the group is still advocating for the fee and works to see what projects and ideas it can fund. 

“This is student money being collected and we need to make sure students are still behind it,” he said. “It’s a way for students to realize their vision for sustainability directly. You can leave a lasting legacy to make USF a more sustainable place for future generations.”

To feature the use of the fee and sustainability at USF, Student Government and the Office of Sustainability held a “Sustainability Showcase” on Feb. 4 in the Marshall Student Center atrium and launched a promotional video this week.

The showcase featured various sustainability projects around campus including a Smart Bike sharing program and a Smart Parking Guidance System (SPGS) that are in the works, and ongoing projects such as solar panel installations around campus.

“It is really important that students (support the SGEF) because it has helped a lot in terms of implementing green initiatives that reduce a significant amount of energy usage and greenhouse gas,” Ghebremichael said. “It has also gets students involved in research and innovation, a lot of these projects are led by students.”

One of the first projects to be funded by the SGEF was the solar panels on top of the Marshall Student Center (MSC) and amphitheater roof, which were installed in the fall of 2012. These panels collect renewable energy that is fed into the USF energy grid.

Students can see live data collected from the panels, as well as other SGEF-funded projects, on a new display screen in the in the Marshall Student Center atrium that was unveiled at the showcase earlier this month. 

The solar panels around the MSC were awarded $160,554 from the SGEF and is estimated to save $3,750 annually and allowed USF to receive a rebate from TECO for the installation.

Other SGEF-funded projects include three main “flagship programs,” which Ghebremichael said the Office of Sustainability is doing research on and includes the bike sharing program, the SPGS program and a “Bull Smart Campus Monitoring System.”

The monitoring system, which cost $280,000 from the SGEF for the first phase of the project, collects data on resources used around campus such as electricity, water and energy. Ghebremichael said this project aims to educate students and faculty on energy consumption and hopes to create a “fun, competitive environment” to reduce energy use and will eventually be expanded to include monitoring systems for every building on campus.

Currently, the Office of Sustainability is researching the SPGS program, which was awarded  $500,000 from the SGEF and is additionally funded by USF Parking and Transportation Services as well as the Center for Urban Transportation Research. The program will monitor parking lots on campus to let students know via mobile app where empty parking spaces are around campus in the hopes of saving students’ time and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The bike-sharing program, awarded $470,620 from the SGEF with contributions from Campus Recreation and Parking and Transportation Services, provides 100 bikes for students to travel emission-free around campus. The bikes include a GPS system so students can pickup and return bikes with the help of a mobile app.

Students can vote on the SGEF referendum during this month’s general elections, which will take place between Feb. 24 and Feb. 27.