Photo illustration by Joe Rudko/The AS ReviewA total of $263,900 out of the Green Energy Fee has been awarded to five student-planned projects, which range from installing solar panels on the Environmental Studies Building to replacing plastic garbage bags in Wilson Library with compostable ones.

Each year, students pay $21 toward the fee, the majority of which is used to fund the grant projects, according to a press release about the Green Energy Fee awards. The leftover money, between $60,000 and $80,000, goes toward paying for renewable energy credits which are purchased to offset Western’s environmental impact.

Students approved an initiative to start the grant program during the 2010 Associated Students election.

This year, students had until April 18 to submit proposals to the Green Energy Fee Committee, which is made up of students, faculty and staff. In addition to the five projects that received funding, two proposals were turned down.

Energy efficiency

Senior Matthew Moroney was awarded the most funding, $167,500, to install a 5-kilowatt (kW) solar panel array on the Environmental Studies Building’s south-facing roof.

Moroney said Western’s current solar panel array on the roof of the Viking Union has the smallest output among six peer universities nationwide. Peer universities are defined as schools with comparable enrollment, core goals, public funding levels, national reputation and faculty excellence, according to Western’s Office of University Planning and Budgeting.

The VU solar panel array has a 2 kW output, according to an informational kiosk on the building’s sixth floor. Moroney added that the solar arrays installed at Western’s peer universities have an average output of 56 kW, and that although his project will increase Western’s output, the university will still be drastically behind the peer average.

“We are falling behind as environmental leaders,” Moroney said. “It’s time to start leading again.”

As a member of Students for Renewable Energy, an AS club, Moroney helped to get the fee initiative on the ballot last year. After the initiative passed, Moroney volunteered to be a member of a Green Energy Fee task force over the summer, and then served on the fee committee during fall quarter. At the beginning of winter quarter, he stepped down to pursue his project. 

Moroney said that he hopes the panels will be installed by fall 2011.

Senior Grant Bowman was awarded $61,000 to retrofit Western’s C parking lot, located across from the Wade King Student Recreation Center, with energy-efficient lighting. He plans to install light-emitting diodes, more commonly known as LEDs.

Bowman said that LEDs are more environmentally friendly, safer and more energy-efficient than the high-pressure sodium lights currently installed in the C lot.

“These sorts of projects are what are going to be required to make significant change,” Bowman said.

Although Bowman originally envisioned re-lighting the entire campus, the current parking lot retrofit will serve as a pilot project for anything larger in the future.

“It’s a project in the hopes that campus will adopt this technology campus-wide, at least in the parking lots,” Bowman said.

The fee committee is currently reviewing when Bowman can start his project. He hopes to see the work finished sometime in 2012, but isn’t sure yet if that is possible due to a pending bid for both materials and a plan to modify the design of the current light fixtures to allow them to accommodate LEDs.

Sustainability and waste reduction

Recent Western graduate Julia Shure was awarded $21,000 to install motion-activated water bottle refilling stations on the second floor of Old Main, in the Atrium, in the Rec Center and on the first floor of Haggard Hall. The bottle refilling fixtures will be attached to the back of drinking fountains.

Shure said that her proposal was part of a larger campaign coordinated by Western’s Students for Sustainable Water club.

“Basically, the bigger campaign is to eliminate bottled water from campus,” Shure said. “We are trying to encourage students to drink tap water. A lot of people make their decisions based on convenience or even aesthetics, so having new and nice-looking fixtures at a drinking fountain will hopefully encourage students to make use of them.”

Although most of the money awarded to Shure will fund the refilling stations, the remaining funds will go toward coupons for discounted water bottles sold for $5 at the Associated Students Outdoor Center. The coupons will be available fall 2011. The bottle refilling stations may be installed by fall 2011, although there is no set completion date yet.

Both senior Greg Meyer and sophomore Bodie Cabiyo decided to create proposals to deal with amount of waste generated by paper towels in campus bathrooms.

Meyer and his group were awarded $1,400 to replace the plastic trash bags in the first and second floor Wilson Library bathrooms with ones made out of compostable material.

“Instead of going into a landfill, the bags will relatively quickly turn into compost, which is an organic material that can be reused for landscaping, and it can even be brought back into the university for our landscaping,” Meyer said. “It can really bring it full circle.”

Meyer said that his simple idea might also save Western money. It is 20 percent cheaper for the university to compost than it is for it to throw away paper towels and trash bags, he said. In addition, Meyer’s project will include an educational component that will encourage students to be conscious of the resources they use.

“This is an educational opportunity that makes students more aware of their waste,” he said. “Resources are not just things that are there and appear and are infinite.”

Cabiyo’s project tackles paper-towel waste differently. He and his two group members were awarded $13,000 to install four high-speed, energy-efficient hand dryers in the Arntzen Hall bathrooms. Cabiyo said that although the dryers and the installation costs are expensive, within three years they should fully pay for themselves. Over a 10-year period, he estimates the dryers will save the university $33,000. After implementing the project, his group plans to do a follow-up study. They ultimately hope to create a comprehensive analysis of the project’s effectiveness to present to Western’s Facilities Management department, with the goal to have similar dryers installed in other locations, ultimately reducing Western’s environmental impact.

“Hopefully, we’ll see more across campus in the near future,” Cabiyo said.

Deciding who gets the money

The fee committee selected proposals based on criteria set out in the program’s mission statement, which says projects should help reduce Western’s environmental footprint and increase student involvement and awareness regarding sustainability.

Two projects were not selected: one plan for a sustainability-based extracurricular class for students and community members, and another proposal to install solar power panels in The Outback Farm, located just south of Fairhaven College.

Looking ahead

Jamin Agosti, AS vice president for student life and the fee committee chair, said the approved projects could make a major impact throughout campus.

 “We’re really excited about them all,” Agosti said. “They all could have big implications on how Western could do business, and they could become campus standards.”

 “We want Western to become more sustainable,” he continued.  “Whether that means reducing the utilities that we are purchasing, reducing our environmental footprint… [Becoming more sustainable is] one of the biggest goals of this program.”

Editor's note: This story has been corrected since its publication. The majority of the $21 Green Energy Fee that students pay each year goes to the grant projects, not to the renewable energy credits. Also, Greg Meyer's last name was printed as Miller. We apologize for these errors.