Kirsten O'Brien/The AS Review

The name may sound strange at first, but an anaerobic digester is not a contraption straight out of science fiction. In fact, it is a machine that would use the waste and scrap food generated by Western’s three dining hall locations and turn it into methane gas to help power the university or create organic compost for Western’s landscaping.

It sounds ambitious, but with the help of Western’s Green Energy Fee, this idea and many others could become a reality.

The Green Energy Fee is paid by Western students, a maximum of $7 per student every quarter. The money goes towards buying renewable energy credits which offset Western’s carbon output. As of Jan. 21 however, almost $300,000 will be made available to students, faculty and staff in the interest of reducing Western’s environmental impact.           Interested parties will be able to submit proposals to the Associated Students Green Fee Adviser Kathryn Freeman until April 18.

Nearly $300,000 is available from the Green Energy Fee to fund student proposals to reduce Western\u2019s environmental impact. Photo illustration by Joe Rudko/The AS Review.

Freeman said that two preliminary proposals have already been submitted to her. Both focus on creating alternative sources of energy to power the university.

“Western has always been a leader in green energy,” Freeman said. “That has been a cornerstone of this university for a very long time.”

Freeman said that she expects projects to vary in size. Some, like the anaerobic digester, more commonly known as a bio digester, are large, complex and expensive projects. Others, like an idea to reduce disposable water bottles on Western’s campus by setting up refillable water bottle stations, are smaller in scale.

Hilary McGowan, president of the AS club Students for Renewable Energy, said that the club has been working on a number of different ideas that they plan to propose. One includes installing solar panels on the Environmental Studies building to use solar energy to power the building’s operations. Another involves replacing light bulbs in the parking lot lamps with energy-efficient LED bulbs. The club also plans to propose the bio digester idea.

McGowan said that although other universities have similar programs in place that allow students to make decisions about their campus’ environmentally conscious practices, Western’s program allows students to have total control over their project.

“Our program is a little different because we not only allow students to submit a grant, but they also have a lot more leadership when they do it,” she said. “I don’t think there is any other student opportunity in the United States where the students have that much power with that much money on a project that they created.”

Jason Austin, Green Fee education coordinator, explained that the importance of reducing Western’s environmental impact would not only help the students, but also encourage other universities to follow suit and enact similar programs.

“We are definitely trying to set a precedent through this program,” Austin said. “If it’s successful, which I feel it will be, it will be something that other universities will want to adopt.”

Austin explained that programs like the Green Fee remind people how important environmental sustainability is for
future generations.

“We won’t have oil in 50 years, and we won’t have coal in about 150 years. You can think of things in terms of your lifetime, so yeah, maybe you won’t have to choke to death on smogged air, but your grandkids might,” he said. “These issues are coming up on us very fast.”

Since proposals are not due until April 18, Freeman encourages anyone who plans to submit one to start early. She said that the process can be time-consuming, and submitting a preliminary proposal is only the first step. After students or faculty submit the initial proposal, Freeman reviews it. From then on, Freeman helps the students fit their idea to the goals of the Green Energy Fee and aids in preparing the proposal for final review by the Green Energy Fee Committee.

Austin and McGowan both stressed the fact that the Green Energy Fee is available to all students, faculty and staff and is not restricted to any particular major. In fact, Austin said that the Green Energy Fee could be a way to encourage collaboration between many departments and colleges on Western’s campus.

“This isn’t just something Huxley kids are doing. I want people in finance to be making cost projections, I want people in the engineering department to get credit for assembling these projects,” he said. “Design, art, English… whatever your major. Everyone has a role to play in this project.”