The Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit working to solve global climate change, hopes to end the fossil fuel industry’s decades-long presence on Stony Brook University’s campus.
The group’s student-led chapter at Stony Brook is petitioning for a 100 percent commitment to renewable fuels on campus by 2030.
“Stony Brook students are the leaders of tomorrow,” Steve Englebright, a District 4 assemblyman, said. Englebright, a professor of sustainability studies at Stony Brook, serves as the group’s faculty advisor. “The involvement at the student level is part of their becoming committed to get involved with issues that really matter.”
Stony Brook’s energy provider, the Calpine Corporation, fuels the power plant on Gymnasium Road with natural gas. The gas is turned into steam and electricity, which is used to power the campus.
In certain cases, when Calpine is unable to keep up with the demand for natural gas, they use fuel oil to power the plant.
Using natural gas is cleaner than burning coal, but can still end up contaminating the air and water.
“Natural gas production along its life cycle, typically has many leaks into the environment and methane is much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide,” H. James Quigley Jr., a professor of sustainability studies at Stony Brook, said.
Starting in 1995, the contract with Calpine has prevented competitors from signing with the university, Englebright said. “They can cut the contract, but they’re not inclined to… The contract is winding down. They’re keeping their options open.”
Although renewable energies like solar panels are currently utilized in the Research and Development Park, Terence Harrigan, the assistant vice president for facilities and services, said the Calpine contract prohibits the university from using renewable energies on the main campus.
This year, Governor Andrew Cuomo enacted Clean Energy Standard, which requires all state institutions to run on 50 percent renewable energy sources by 2030. With the university’s current energy contract ending in 2022, Stony Brook has less than eight years to fulfill the requirements.
In addition, a 2010 executive order from the governor requires that all SUNYs cut energy use by 20 percent by the year 2020.
“We are working on projects mainly focused on conservation and efficiency that meet that goal,” said Harrigan. “Further clarification is needed from the State as to how those projects could be funded or identified.”
So far, the Stony Brook chapter of the Climate Reality Project’s Campus Corps has obtained over 500 signatures for their petition. Their end goal is to meet with President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. to discuss a plan to move toward a more sustainable future.
In the meantime, the group is looking into various renewable energy solutions, including installing solar panels in the South P Lot.
“We especially want to get the hospital involved too,” Christina Giordanella, chapter president and double major in sustainability studies and coastal environmental studies, said. “It’s a lot of energy, but I think starting somewhere couldn’t be anything but beneficial.”
These efforts signal that progress may be on the horizon, but many students feel that more needs to be done on the administrative level. These sentiments were expressed at the Undergraduate Student Government’s Sustainability Committee meeting on Dec. 1.
Condrea Zhuang, president of the Environmental Club, recalled the difficulties her club encountered last year in trying to make the campus more energy efficient.
“We went around campus collecting data and taking photographic evidence of all the buildings on campus that waste energy by leaving the lights on throughout the night, despite the buildings themselves being closed, such as the Union, Physics, Chemistry and the SBS buildings,” said the sustainability studies and coastal environmental studies double major. “We were able to make contact with the energy management here on campus but didn’t get very far before the academic year ended.”
Sean Deery, a junior business major, suggested that the university has not been transparent in communicating the details of their contract with Calpine.
“Essentially, it’s just higher up than students can actually reach, in terms of the administration,” Deery said.
Although it is unlikely the university will be able to switch from 0 to 100 percent renewable energies overnight, Quigley said that even small improvements are better than none at all.
“It’s going to have to rely on some measure of fossil fuels, but there should be some planning process and some commitment to their decision-making process toward a transition for renewable energy.”