OSPIRG helps create plan to guide universities toward 100 percent renewable energy

By Ryan Nguyen, The Daily Emerald

When UO student Will Northington joined OSPIRG, the sophomore was not expecting to lead the group’s press conference on renewable energy in his first week.

“It was intimidating at first, but I was really excited to jump right in with both feet,” he said.

Oregon Students Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG) is a state federation of students that conducts nonpartisan analysis on public issues. It collaborated with the Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center to release a 10 point plan to guide campuses toward establishing a 100 percent renewable energy system.

Environment Oregon is a 501(c)(4) organization, which means that the association is exempt from taxes as a non-profit organization that exclusively promotes social welfare. It’s the Oregon chapter of the Environment America Research & Policy Center, and it lobbies for pro-environment legislation on local, state and national levels.

The plan is called Renewable Energy 101: Ten Tools for Moving your Campus to 100% Clean Energy, and it was designed for students, faculty and administrators to implement in their colleges and universities.

“Colleges and universities across the country are situated to lead the charge in the transition to a 100 percent clean energy future,” said Celeste Meiffren-Swango, Director of Environment Oregon Research and Policy Center, in an Environment Oregon press release. “University of Oregon and other campuses in Oregon have the ability and the know-how to lead by taking bold steps to shift to clean energy and eliminate pollution from energy use.”

The plan’s points range from using self-contained microgrids to purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), which pay renewable energy providers for the right of purchasers to use their energy, and one REC represents one megawatt-hour of clean energy. It also includes various case studies of colleges that successfully implemented these ideas.

At Northington’s first OSPIRG meeting, he stepped up to coordinate the group’s renewable energy campaign.

“It’s only going to get worse if we don’t do anything about it, and a big step is switching to renewable energy and eliminating CO2 releases and fossil fuel infrastructure,” he said.

In March 2010, the UO created a Climate Action Plan (CAP) to track and reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, review campus buildings’ energy usage and integrate sustainability topics into the curriculum. After a revision process that lasted from 2012 to 2014, according to the UO Office of Sustainability director Steve Mital, the UO Office of Sustainability hopes to release an updated version during this academic year.

“With our federal government abandoning climate leadership at a critical time, it’s up to all of us to make up the difference,” said Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley in an Environment Oregon press release. “America’s colleges and universities can and should lead the way, and I’m thrilled to see Environment Oregon roll out this blueprint for action at the University of Oregon today.”

Northington echoed these feelings about the White House, saying that he was inspired not to rely on elected officials to do “what might be best for the Earth.”

For now, Northington is figuring out where the 100 percent renewable campaign will go. He says that OSPIRG is preparing to send a letter to the UO administration and collect student and faculty signatures to show support for the campaign.

He’s hoping for more support through student and faculty recruitment as well as higher visibility on campus.

“It’s a cause that a lot of people can get behind, especially here at the University of Oregon,” he said.

OSPIRG is also currently running advocacy campaigns on halting the construction of oil pipelines and generating meals for those with food insecurity. Lane Community College and Southern Oregon University have also established campus OSPIRG groups.

“I think the only way that I could personally feel like something will be getting done is if I do my part and help out,” said Northington. “Hopefully, other people will do their part and come to realize what’s happening to our climate.”