The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, The second best time is today.
– Chinese proverb
Volume 75 | Issue 3
May 2007

Green Money: Student fees bring green energy to campuses

Elizabeth Stringer

With global warming inching its way into the social conscious, many colleges and universities are taking action. Institutions have started implementing mandatory student fees for renewable energy, using the money to start on-campus initiatives and do off-campus purchasing. 

Appalachian State University

In 2004, the students of Appalachian State University voted in support of a $5 per semester increase to install renewable energy technology on campus. The student fee went into effect in September 2005 and raises between $120,000 and $150,000 a year.

The proposal of the student fee started with the Appalachian State University Renewable Energy Initiative (ASUREI), a student-led group who “felt it would be a great opportunity for the students of the university to voice their concern for our current energy production trends,” said Nicole Rezvani, public relations (personal communication, February 25, 2007).

The committee, composed of seven students and five faculty or staff members, is charged with deciding when and how to use the money raised by the student fee. Since its inception, the group has completed two major projects. First, ASUREI purchased a 10,000 gallon tank of B20 fuel—a blend of 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent pertrodiesel—which all the ApplCart, the university and community public transportation system, and diesel motor pool vehicles are now using. The university has agreed to use the B20 fuel from now on, and over time will reduce its particulate pollution, caused by motor vehicles, by 10 percent and its CO2 emissions by 20 percent.

ASUREI also has assisted a university-operated research and demonstration facility called the BioDiesel Collaborative to purchase solar thermal panels, used for heating water. The panels will “provide all the heating needs for biodiesel production and the production of the facility,” Rezvani said (personal communication, February 25, 2007).

With two successful projects behind them, ASUREI members are currently working on several more initiatives. One possible project is to purchase solar thermal panels, similar to those used at the BioDiesel Collaborative, for the Plemmons Student Union.

“Forty to fifty solar thermal collectors will transfer heat from the sun into hot water storage tanks,” Rezvani said (personal communication, February 25, 2007). “This will greatly reduce the electricity required to meet the various hot water needs of the student union.”

Although on hold, another plan is in place to set up a wind turbine. According to Rezvani, the university has offered ASUREI land for this purpose; however, the group currently lacks the funds to purchase the technology (personal communication, February 25, 2007). 

Since the student fee pays for the majority of these initiatives, ASUREI has also decided to set up an information kiosk in the union for the start of the 2007–08 academic year. “Along with updated REI information and renewable energy education, this system will stream live data from all renewable energy systems on campus,” Rezvani said (personal communication, February 25, 2007).

University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill

Much like Appalachian State University, University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill student body voted in favor of a $4 per semester student fee to bring renewable energy technology on campus in February 2003. At the time of this vote, the language of the proposal dictated that the fee would only last two years. And in 2005, showing their support of the student fee, the student body once again approved the student fee for another four years.

The Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee (RESPC) is the student organization charged with deciding when and how the money generated from the student fee, about $185,000 per year, will be spent.

“RESPC exists to fund the renewable energy infrastructure on campus,” said Jesse Pentice-Dunn, co-chair of RESPC (personal communication, February 28, 2007). “This is, we cannot buy green power from a utility, we cannot fund behavioral change campaigns, we can only fund actual infrastructure such as solar panels, etc. that are on campus.”

RESPC is composed of seven members, five undergraduates and two graduate students, appointed by the student congress and the vice president of the student government.

“We work with administrators, facility planners, and architects to identify potential projects where renewable energy can be incorporated and then fund the more appropriate project,” Pentice-Dunn said (personal communication, February 28, 2007). “We also apply regularly for grant funding for these projects.”

RESPC has appropriated the money for three successful projects. First, in 2004, RESPC allocated $185,000 for a solar thermal array, a series of connected solar panels, to be installed on top of a 10-story, university residence hall that houses around 900 students; this is used for heating all water for the dormitory.

“We’re currently trying to obtain grant funding for interactive kiosks to be placed on each floor of the dorm that will display current energy and chilled water usage, as well as weather and current events,” Pentice-Dunn said (personal communication, February 28, 2007). “There will also be a Web site that will show the output from the solar array in real time, and a database storing all of this information that will be available for research.”

In 2005, the group decided to fund fueling on-campus buses with biodiesel. And in 2006, RESPC committed $210,000 to build 59 geothermal wells at the North Carolina Botanical Gardens in Chapel Hill. Geothermal wells collect steam from the Earth’s core that is used to produce electricity and heat buildings.

Even though the fee has been extended to last until 2009, RESPC is already gearing up to campaign for another extension. “We would like to extend the fee for at least another four years, to increase the level of the fee, and to expand the wording of our mission statement so that we can fund more than renewable energy infrastructure on campus,” Pentice-Dunn said (personal communication, February 28, 2007).

Connecticut College

In 2001, Connecticut College implemented a $25 per year student fee for off-campus purchasing of renewable energy. This fee was instated with the intention of purchasing renewable electricity for the athletic center and non-dormitory housing from EcoWatt (Turcotte, 2003, p. 1).
With this, Connecticut College became the first college in the United States to join a co-operative that would supply the campus with “100 percent, Green-e certified, renewable electricity” (Sullivan, 2001, ¶ 1).

However, shortly after the college started purchasing its energy from this co-op, it went out of business. With no other such viable option, students belonging to the Renewable Energy Club worked closely with the administration to find an appropriate alternative. This is when the college decided to purchase tradable renewable credits, also known as renewable energy credits.

Since purchasing green electricity is often cost-prohibitive for institutions and businesses, renewable energy credits were created as “part of a national strategy to encourage the generation of new clean, renewable energy sources” (Turcotte, 2003, p. 1). By investing in renewable energy certificates, Connecticut College, and other institutions like it, is ensuring that companies that produce clean energy, such as wind power, receive a higher demand for the product, helping the company to become a more profitable and successful business. The end result is that more clean energy is being made available because the company’s increased profits allow for higher production. 

Mesa State College

In 2001, WeCAN members at Mesa State College decided to ask the student body to give an additional $1 per semester to fund the purchase of renewable energy.

WeCAN is a chapter of the Western Colorado Congress (WCC), “a grassroots alliance of eight community groups throughout western Colorado,” said Andy Whipple, WCC community organizer (personal communication, February 28, 2007). “WCC created WeCAN in 2001 because young people are our future leaders, and many colleges do not teach students about the many on-going environmental and social justice issues throughout the world.”

By teaching the WeCAN members about these issues, WCC enables Mesa State College students to design and implement campaigns on campus; and the movement for the student fee was one of these campaigns.

The student fee was originally thought to go toward the purchase of wind energy for campus. However, WeCAN members “decided not to continue to purchase renewable energy credits through the WindSource Program because the money didn’t stay on campus, and we couldn’t see our results,” Whipple said (personal communication, February 28, 2007).

So WeCAN drafted campus legislation called the MESA Fund, which allows the students to bring renewable energy projects on campus. And it was decided that the student fee should be rolled into the MESA Fund as well.

“WeCAN successfully raised over $100,000 to install a 10kW grid-tie photovoltaic solar system for the college that will save over $50,000 in energy costs over the life of the system,” Whipple said (personal communication, February 28, 2007). “The solar panels have a guaranteed life of 25 years; the installer told us that they usually last 30–35 years.”
This is the largest grid-tie system in western Colorado.

Grid-tie systems are designed to feed directly into the main electric box to reduce the use of electricity from the grid. If the solar system is producing more electricity than someone is using, the system will feed power back to the grid. (Nichols, 2006, ¶ 9)

The photovoltaic solar system will offset the power used by the college’s radio station, and it is hoped that this project “will inspired college administrators and local businesses to take a look at using renewable energy to power their future energy needs” (Whipple, 2005, ¶ 8).

Western Washington University

At Western Washington University, it was a group of students taking an environmental science course that started a group called Students for Renewable Energy, and then introduced the idea of adding a student fee for off-campus purchasing of renewable energy technology. In 2004, by a vote of 84.7 percent, the student body approved a student fee of up to $19. After some negotiation, the fee was set at $10.50 per full-time student per semester.

“Our goal was to make a difference on campus,” said Rose Woofenden, co-chairperson (personal communication, February 27, 2007).
Much like Connecticut College, Western Washington University is using the money from the student fee to purchase renewable energy certificates from Puget Sound Energy.

“Western is currently buying 100 percent wind energy. This was the best option we were aware of when the [renewable energy credits] were first purchased,” Woofenden said (personal communication, February 27, 2007).

For its achievements in bringing renewable energy to campus, Western Washington University was placed 24th on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Top 25 list of Green Power Partners for 2005.

Outside of the working with the student fee, the Students for Renewable Energy are working on a having a solar-electric demonstration on campus and bringing a renewable energy speaker series to campus. 

“Our speaker series is designed to help students and our local community learn more about renewable energy,” Woofenden said (personal communication, February 27, 2007). “By educating ourselves and others, we can make a huge difference for renewable energy.”

It is widely believed that higher education institutions are an essential starting ground for sustainable education. According to Bekessy, Burgman, Wright, Filho, and Smith (2003), “Universities have a responsibility to lead society towards a sustainable future. Universities prepare most of the world’s managers, decision-makers and teachers, and themselves play significant roles in national and global economies” (p. 5). And by instituting mandatory student fees for renewable energy, colleges and students are showing dedication and understanding of the sustainability movement.


Bekessy, S., Burgman, M., Wright, T., Filho, W., & Smith, W. (2003). Universities and sustainability. Retrieved April 10, 2007 from Australian Conservation Foundation Web site: http://www.acfonline.org.au/default.asp?section_id=124.
Nichols, J. (2006, February 20). Students tap solar power. Retrieved March 3, 2007, from the Western Colorado Congress Web site: http://www.wccongress.org/pdfs/06JAN_wecan_freepress%20.pdf.
Sullivan, A. (2001, May 18). Connecticut College joins energy co-op. Retrieved March 3, 2007, from the Connecticut College Web site: http://aspen.conncoll.edu/camelweb/index.cfm?fuseaction=news&id=485.
Turcotte, M. (2003, December 18). Green energy at Connecticut College. Retrieved March 3, 2007, from the Connecticut College Web site: http://greenliving.conncoll.edu/GreenEnergyDecision%202003.pdf.
Whipple, A. (2005 December). Donations turn sun’s rays to radio waves. Retrieved March 3, 2007, from the Western Colorado Congress Web site: http://www.wccongress.org/pdfs/05DEC_wecan.pdf.