Opinion

Loyola Must Transition to Fully Renewable Energy

Heather Eidson | Loyola University ChicagoEnvironmental Science students work in the EcoDome greenhouse at the Institute of Environmental Sustainability Oct. 22, 2014.

Loyola runs on fossil fuels. Loyola runs on energy exploited from the Earth. Our university is supporting an industry which exploits its workers, who risk their lives, to abuse the Earth for dirty electricity.

Our school boasts an emphasis of environmental sustainability and justice, yet uses non-renewable energy far from those ideals. It’s possible for Loyola to run on 100 percent renewable electricity —  while saving money — due to the cost of renewable electricity falling significantly in recent years. Purchasing 100 percent renewable electricity would cut Loyola’s footprint in half. In order to make the transition into using 100 percent renewable, clean energy, Loyola needs to see enough interest to pass university-wide legislation.

The student government initiative, REpower Loyola, has started a petition for the university to move toward renewable electricity. This petition has been signed by more than 300 students, staff, faculty and alumni. It has support from the Student Environmental Alliance (SEA), of which we are both part, and Student Government of Loyola Chicago (SGLC).

Most of the students, alumni, staff and faculty who’ve signed the petition have said they support renewable energy because they care about the environment and they want Loyola to maintain a leading role in sustainability. Loyola has received many awards for being a “green” school, notably by continually being on the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools list, which ranks colleges by their sustainability efforts and successes. However, our national ranking has been falling for the past three years.

Exceeding Loyola’s sustainability ranking is Stanford University, with 65 percent of its energy fueled by renewable sources. Also, Catholic University of America runs on 100 percent renewable energy, and Georgetown University, a Jesuit institution, has been working toward the same goal since the 2013 financial year, according to its self-reported sustainability facts.

As a fellow Jesuit institution, Loyola needs to support sustainably produced energy and industries with ethical working conditions. In order to fulfill our student promise of caring for one’s self, others and the community, the school’s actions must also align within those principles. We need to abandon industries that harm the Earth and those living on it. We need to start supporting sustainable industries.

The interest to do so is surely there.

Within the past few years, initiatives have been passed urging Loyola to put rooftop solar panels atop the Damen Student Center and Gentile Arena. Roofs are an ideal site for solar panels as more sunlight can reach them compared to ground solar panels, especially in urban settings. In addition, the rooftop locations aren’t currently being used for anything. The use of on-site solar panels would allow the campus to create some renewable energy, while taking advantage of unused campus space. However, to run on 100 percent renewable electricity, we’d need to expand beyond solar panels on campus roof space.

SEA has proposed to SGLC and Loyola Facilities that the university should supplement solar panels on campus with off-site renewable energy and renewable energy credits (RECs). RECs can be purchased from projects already producing renewable electricity anywhere in the United States. Off-site renewable energy would involve purchasing land outside of Chicago to create energy from either wind turbines or solar panels. An off-site location would provide more energy than Loyola would need; other universities in the greater Chicago area could co-own the land.

Once the initial startup costs are paid off, this option would likely save Loyola money in energy prices, too.

Renewable energy credits are a second option Loyola could potentially start immediately. This would only require Loyola to switch energy suppliers to a renewable energy supplier; however, each increment of energy would be charged a renewable energy fee. This option, then, would be more costly than an off-site investment.

The REpower Loyola campaign would once again allow Loyola to lead the national charge toward environmental sustainability, while likely lowering the university’s energy costs, cutting its carbon footprint by half and bringing better working conditions to those working in global energy industries. With nothing holding the university back from making this change, its students are pushing the REpower initiative forward for consideration.

As long as Loyola continues to use energy, it can choose which energies it uses. And when faced with the option of renewable energy over fossil fuels, there’s no reason we would need to run on dirty energy.

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