Get your green on, CSU
The environmental-activist group Greenpeace made Chico its first stop this week on a 10-school tour designed to drum up support for using more renewable power at the California State University system’s 23 campuses. Greenpeace National Student Organizer Josh Lynch, who was manning an exhibit featuring a mobile solar-power generator at Chico State’s Free Speech Area Monday, said that while Chico and a couple of other campuses are heading in the right direction in terms of promoting sustainable energy, the CSU system as a whole has yet to properly address the issue.
“Ninety-nine point eight percent of the energy CSU buys is dirty power—that’s coal, nuclear and gas—and almost all of it is from out of state,” Lynch said. “This is the largest university system in the world. If CSU does commit to renewables, it would have a huge affect on the [clean-power] industry.”
The system currently uses about three megawatts of solar power, including a 1.4 megawatt system installed last year at Cal State Hayward in the Bay Area.
Lynch said Greenpeace’s goal with its current campaign is to get CSU leaders to mandate that all schools obtain at least 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2014 and by 2024 use at least 50 percent renewable power. The group also wants the system to incorporate environment-friendly building practices and to reduce student energy use by 20 percent by 2014.
“CSU is the last public education system in California to adopt a renewable-energy policy,” Lynch said, adding that the University of California and Los Angeles Community College systems both recently adopted similar policies. In contrast, CSU has lagged even on publishing a feasibility study that would weigh the pros and cons of a renewable-energy policy. Such a study was ordered by the trustees almost a year ago, Lynch said.
While there is a general perception that solar power has lagged behind other technologies because it is somehow not as viable, Lynch said, the reality is that the government, along with the energy industry, has simply not made it a priority. Research and development in fossil fuels and nuclear power is currently funded by about $30 billion in taxpayer dollars every year, while solar and other renewable power technologies are virtually ignored.
“This is a conscious decision that’s been made,” Lynch said. “It’s not because of the technology itself. It just needs some development and some research to make it cost-effective.”
Locally, the idea of solar power has been making steady gains, with Butte County and the cities of Oroville and Chico installing several new projects in the last couple of years. The first phase of Butte County’s solar project was completed last fall, and construction is set to begin on the next phase shortly. When finished, it will be one of the largest solar-power installations in the state.
But local renewable-energy projects are not without their share of controversy, as seen by the troubles Butte College has had installing a 900-kilowatt system on its main campus. That project was held up for months over the objections of a single neighbor who is now suing the school, alleging it failed to complete necessary environmental studies before starting construction and that the project will ruin the view from her hillside home.