Student Green Energy Fee up for a student vote

The student body will vote this semester through a Student Government referendum on whether or not to continue financially backing the Student Green Energy Fund System (SGEF).

In 2008, USF President Judy Genshaft signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment to partner with colleges across the nation to support the future of energy conservation, reduction in energy costs and encourage green energy technologies. 

Three years later, USF began the Climate Action Plan (CAP) with the SGEF, and has been consistently implementing environmentally sustainable efforts to reduce carbon emissions on campus. 

Offered to universities across the state through the Florida Board of Governors, USF students decide every three years if the Green fee will still be required, and if the price will fluctuate. 

In February 2014, the referendum was certified by the Election Rules Commission and passed, with 69 percent of students approving the Green fee on the Tampa campus. 

“Nine years ago, students approved the Green fee — which is $1 per credit hour,” said Harold Bower, chairman of the Green Fund Council and assistant vice president of Shared Services & Facilities. 

Each year, the SGEF raises enough to generate $2-3 million in funding for green amenities, like Share-a-Bull Bikes, refillable water bottle stations and a solar energy phone charging station. 

To further environmentally conscious developments, students, faculty and staff are eligible to submit a proposal to solve energy and cost deficiency issues around campus.

Upcoming projects include electric buses to be introduced to campus and LED lights in parking lots and roads on campus.  

“The university has allocated funding to transportation services, the council has approved to pay the upcharge to have two electric buses,” Bower said. 

Each bus will cost $250,000 to compensate for the transition of fossil fuel buses to electric, but once the charging infrastructure is established on campus, it will allow for more buses, according to Bower. 

The SGEF also has a partnership with the university to allocate funding for renovating light posts and replacing road and parking lot lights with LED lights — to provide a more well-lit surface area, a safer commute around campus and energy efficiency at night. It will reduce the lighting energy demand by 40 percent and reduce greenhouse gases and total electricity consumption, according to the Roadway and Parking Lots LED Lighting Project Proposal. 

If funding is cut, many of these progressive projects might not come to fruition. 

“If the vote doesn’t pass, funding for the projects would be used until they were depleted,” Bower said. 

Some students were indifferent about the fee, while others are aware of the SGEF efforts. 

“One of the reasons why I chose this school was because of its ‘green reputation,’” said Dana Samelson, a sophomore majoring in environmental science. “The buses we have now are old and maintenance on them is expensive. After reviewing the Cost Benefit Analysis—projected costs of the electric buses and their durability—it pays off in the long run.” 

Cost effectiveness and the elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from the Tampa campus is the goal of the SGEF, as well as facilitating a platform for students to create sustainably-friendly projects. 

“We are making a big difference on this campus and campuses across the country in reducing our carbon footprint,” Bower said.