OPINION: SG’s renewable energy resolution supports move toward a sustainability-focused university

The USF Student Government’s renewable energy resolution could potentially help Florida’s environment and reduce the university’s future utilities budgets. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

The Student Government (SG) Senate passed a resolution March 23 that promises all three of USF’s campuses will achieve complete reliance on renewable energy by 2040. This move is nothing but a positive advancement for student and faculty life. 

Proposed by USF’s chapter of Florida’s Public Interest Research Group, the resolution seeks to encourage USF to reach universitywide renewable energy by 2030 and to rely on it entirely only 10 years later, pledging a sustainable environment for those on and around all three campuses. 

The resolution asks the administration to start slowly by changing light bulbs and eventually move to running golf carts for administration and maintenance golf carts on the same energy that will be collected through solar panels placed on the tops of buildings across campuses. 

This would be a great use of university funds since it will benefit those on campus and will allow for USF to become a more environmentally sustainable community.

The resolution may seem like it could cost the university a large portion of its yearly budget, but that is not the case. USF has a 2020-21 operating budget of $1.23 million for environmental health and safety, while also budgeting $1.67 million for the same year’s utilities. 

Together, both funds make up less than 1% of the 2020-21 administrative services budget and only 0.6% of USF’s budget for the entire school year. 

The utilities and environmental health and safety funds could ultimately be transferred to the maintenance needed for the solar panels, after the application is finished in 2040, since the university would be running on completely renewable energy, eliminating the need to outsource and continually fund electrical services. 

The environmental effects of 100% reliance on renewable energy sources is something to strive for at a state university that prides itself on its green initiatives and environmental engineering school. 

USF’s 2015 to 2025 Campus Master Plan states that USF administration promises to work toward the minimization of its negative environmental impacts and plans to improve the planet through “improved air, water and open space quality in the vicinity of the campus.” 

The Patel College of Global Sustainability at USF also developed a Climate Action Plan in 2010 committing reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% in 2035 and achieving net carbon emissions by 2050. 

All of these stated goals can be achieved if USF administration considers the resolution and starts moving toward using renewable energy sources.

The improvement of USF’s air and water quality can also be initiated by the introduction of renewable energy on campus, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, an organization of experts who work to spread the word about climate change. 

Using renewable energy sources can help decrease greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide. In 2019, 29% of America’s carbon dioxide emissions derived from production of electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, so moving to renewable energy will help the U.S. move one step closer to minimizing its carbon footprint. SG is moving in the right direction by approving this new resolution that will hopefully help decrease USF’s environmental damage if endorsed by administration.

An issue with SG’s resolution is that it is largely symbolic because it only formally states the position of SG and does not propose specific actions that will be taken in the future by SG or USF. Despite this, SG has now taken the first step in sustainability, which is to put the idea of safer and cleaner resources. Once the university commits to implement solar panels and replace light bulbs, it will have no choice but to move forward in its attempts at creating more sustainable campuses.

More universities, and eventually other government-funded facilities, should begin to move their campuses to renewable energy sources as well. 

UF’s SG has begun changing light bulbs around its campuses to environmentally friendly options, like LEDs and fluorescents, but hasn’t set a date for its completion of replacing all energy sources with more sustainable alternatives. In January 2020, 3,600 FSU students signed a petition urging their SG to commit to 100% renewable energy by 2050, which led to the SG passing a resolution that same year.

The greenhouse emissions of each of these campuses shows the need for a renewable energy program. USF’s greenhouse emissions were almost 200,000 metric tons in 2014, increasing 1.9%, or 3,697 metric tons, from 2009. UF also emitted over 300,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases in the 2018-19 school year, while FSU only emitted about 140,000 metric tons the year before, according to each university’s self reports.

If UF and FSU worked with USF to create a more sustainable Florida university system, the state’s school system would be making a visible difference in Florida’s greenhouse emissions and overall air quality. 

The Senate made the right decision in passing this renewable energy resolution. If USF recognizes it and moves toward achieving goals it has already set for itself in other sustainability plans, students should expect to see positive improvements around campus in the years to come.