Sustainability Intern Positions to Continue Next Year

In light of College and State of Maryland budget crises this year, the recently terminated Sustainability Fellow position is not scheduled to be reinstated next year despite considerable campus support.

Begun in 2008 as a one-year fellowship program, the Sustainability Fellow position was designed as the only full-time sustainability office position. The person holding this position would be in charge of organizing and researching sustainability initiatives on campus alongside campus planning and facilities.

However, recent budget deficits led to the position’s suspension last year (held at the time by Lisa Neu ’10), which, according to former Dean of Students Laura Bayless, would allow for the hiring of a new associate in the Office of Financial Aid and a Judicial Affairs Coordinator in the Office of Student Activities. Replacing the fellowship was the Sustainability Internship program, under which three students would work alongside Facilities Planner and Sustainability Coordinator Luke Mowbray throughout the year to expand the College’s sustainability initiatives.

According to Mowbray, the positions will be continued next year, with an intern also working over the summer in preparation for the upcoming academic year.

“The student intern program will be continued for the same reason it was started,” said Mowbray. “As a new program we’ve been figuring out how to be the most efficient with new staff resources.”

Much support has been shown by the College community to restore the Sustainability Fellow position, largely for the same reasons the initial suspension decision was called for appeal to the President’s Council last year by former Student Trustee Danny Ruthenburg-Marshall. While financially more efficient to hire three part-time (10 hours per week) student interns over a full-time Fellow position, the inherent decreased efficiency of the position from a sustainability standpoint is difficult to overlook.

“Overall the student interns were fantastic workers and achieved a great deal,” said Mowbray. “The challenges we had with the new structure had to do with the total number of hours worked by sustainability staff and the inherent scheduling and oversight issues typical of part-time student positions.”

Despite appeals to College President Urgo and the Board of Trustees by a variety of students on campus, including SGA President Mark Snyder, the Sustainability Fellow position remains suspended until further notice, and interns will be hired to continue into the summer and following year.

"Bag It" Urges Bagging Plastic Use

Sorry Barbie, but it turns out that a life in plastic is not so fantastic after all.

On Wednesday, Nov. 9 in Cole Cinema, the Center for Study of Democracy, the League of Women Voters, and the Environmental Studies Department co-sponsored the showing of “Bag It,” a documentary by Jeb Berrier that investigates plastics and their effect on our waterways, oceans, and even our bodies.

The event opened with a few words from representatives of each sponsor. The Center for Study of Democracy’s Michael Cain opened by reminding us of what we can do on a local level, and that the “small things matter.” Next was the Programs Director of the League of Women Voters’ Pat Dunlap, who noted the statistic that “60,000 plastic bags are used every five minutes in America, and most of them are thrown away.”

Berrier, who describes himself as “an average guy” and “not what you consider a tree hugger,” began the documentary by explaining the affect of plastic bags and other plastics on our world.

The movie gave alarming statistics about the use of plastic like the fact that “an estimated 12 million barrels of oil is used annually to make the plastic bags that Americans consume,” Berrier explained. “These bags often wind up in waterways or on the landscape, becoming eyesores and degrading water and soil as they break down into toxic bits. Their manufacture, transportation, and disposal use large quantities of non-renewable resources and release equally large amounts of global-warming gases.”

Countries around the world have started to take action, however. According to Berrier, China banned ultra-thin plastic bags in 2008, Modbury, England also banned plastic bags, and Ireland placed a fee on them, in which all cases were extremely effective in reducing plastic use. Cities in the US have also risen to fight plastic bag use. San Francisco has banned plastic bags. Other cities considering bans or fees include Austin, Boston, New Haven, Baltimore, Phoenix, and Annapolis.

Not only do plastic bags cause major issues, but also all other single-use plastics including water bottles, coffee cups, take-out containers, and plastic utensils make for non-biodegradable waste that builds up in landfills and contaminate our environment including oceans.

In the Pacific Ocean, created by currents in the water, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has become what Berrier referred to as a “plastic soup” that is in the ocean for animals to eat, which kills them. Because the plastic only breaks down into smaller pieces, marine animals find it easier to swallow. Plastics in the oceans, according to Berrier, have affected more than 260 species thus far.

Not only are these plastics dangerous to the environment, but they may also be harmful to our bodies. Bisphenol A and phthalates, two additives commonly used in plastic, have been studied by scientists and are now proven to be toxic, endocrine-disrupting, hormone level-changing, and disease-causing, according to Berrier. However, these toxics can be avoided by reading labels of plastic products.

Though to tackle this issue would take worldwide effort, Berrier has urged his audiences to be aware of this issue. Also, he challenges them “to go single-use plastic free for a single day. It’s not as easy as you think,” he said.

For more information about the documentary, or to support the cause, visit bagitmovie.com.

College’s Sustainability Initiatives Still Going Strong

St. Mary’s touts itself as a green school, and yet some alumni were still wondering why the College has not shown up in any prestigious green school rankings, such as The Princeton Review, Sierra Club’s Cool Schools, or the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS).

Luke Mowbray, the Sustainability Coordinator, says, “There are a number of green reporting agencies, but traditionally we haven’t submitted scores for too many of them.” However, the College has submitted scores to the Princeton Review and the Maryland Green Registry, and it will be expanding its score submissions to AASHE STARS, the most comprehensive green reporting system, within the next year.

In years past, St. Mary’s has garnered enough impressive accolades to prove that the College is indeed working towards its goal of environmental sustainability. It was rated in the 80 percentile of universities in the country in The Princeton Review’s Top Green Schools, and is the only college in Maryland to receive the Maryland Green Leadership Award.

St. Mary’s has been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the largest green power purchaser in the Capital Athletic Conference for the past four years, and is the first school in Maryland to be named a sanctuary by the Audubon Society.

In 2008, the College completed an Energy Performance Contract (EPC) worth $2.5 million in energy and water efficiency upgrades, leading to a 16.5 %  reduction in electricity through engineered savings, and a 34% water and sewage reduction.

Additionally, all new construction at the College must be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certified or equivalent, demonstrating the College’s commitment to make its buildings environmentally responsible.

Mowbray was “surprsised that [St. Mary’s] hadn’t submitted for AASHE STARS,” but extolled the College’s administration for being “very supportive” of these goals. “We do a lot of really good work here, and it would be nice to let the world know.”

Student Eco-reps Are "Environmental Resources"

Sustainability Committee Co-chair Christophe Bornand speaks at the third eco-rep meeting of the year. (Photo by Matt Molek)
Sustainability Committee Co-chair Christophe Bornand speaks at the third eco-rep meeting of the year. (Photo by Matt Molek)

This semester, students in the dormitories will notice a new presence encouraging them to be more eco-friendly. The presence, a group of students known as “eco-reps,” will be running a number of programs designed to make dorm residents more conscious of the energy that they use.

The program began with Richard Platt, Associate Professor of Psychology and Sustainability Committee co-chair. He has been on the Sustainability Committee for the past couple of years, and is co-chair of the Research Conservation Committee. He said that the College had a program to encourage behavior changes toward sustainability that was ending, and, he said, “I thought we needed something that was ongoing.”

Platt then talked to the students in his statistics class last semester to see if any students were interested in a proposal for a new program to encourage sustainability on campus. He said they looked at what other colleges had done from the point of view of a psychologist–that is, what was “most likely to produce behavior change.” They found the eco-rep model to be most workable.

The eco-reps’ first project of the year will involve raising awareness about “phantom load,” that is, the energy that appliances draw when turned off but still plugged in. Eco-reps will have on hand several Kill A Watt meters to measure the electricity drawn by such “vampire appliances” as televisions and computers in students’ rooms. The meters have already been paid for by the Sustainability Committee budget.

According to junior Dana Gittings, one of the students who originally helped start the eco-rep program, the eco-reps are planning a “dorm rush,” in which some eco-reps will meet in dorm common rooms and others will go door to door to perform energy audits. For students who might not have time for an audit during the dorm rush but who might want to see how much energy their appliances use, eco-reps will also have meters in their rooms so that students can stop by on their own time.

Gittings said that the purpose of the “dorm rush” is to let students know that energy auditing “is an available thing to do.”

The eco-reps are already thinking about other projects that they want to implement on campus. After the energy audits, the eco-reps want to begin an exchange of fluorescent light bulbs for incandescent ones. A demonstration of the Kill A Watt meters at the last eco-rep meeting showed that incandescent bulbs use four times the energy of fluorescent bulbs to generate the same amount of light.

Later projects include reusable water bottle pledges which could lead to discounts at the Daily Grind, signs on trash cans regarding what can be recycled or reused instead of thrown out, signs reminding students to turn off lights and water, and a permanent clothing swap where students can drop off clothes that they no longer wear for other students to pick up. The eco-reps will also be helping the Sustainability Committee introduce reusable hard plastic to-go boxes to the Great Room.

Junior Melina Vamvas, another student involved in the creation of the eco-rep program, remembered reading about one school that served breakfast in bed to the winners of an inter-dorm energy challenge. Vamvas said that such a competition between the dorms would not work now because the energy readings are not individually done by dorms yet, but she said, “I’d totally make a dorm breakfast and deliver it to [students] in bed!”

There are currently 16-20 eco-reps for the five dorms on campus, or, according to Gittings, about one per floor, excepting Dorchester, which only has one eco-rep for the entire building.

“Hopefully, the program will grow,” Gittings said.

The span of the program is also expected to grow despite the fact that the program focuses on the dorms now. Platt said of the dorms that “those seem to fit the model the best in terms of having a more open layout,” but added that “some part of the eco-reps’ role” would extend to other residence areas. Vamvas also mentioned plans to bring eco-reps to orientation.

“We still have to figure out all the kinks,” said Vamvas.

Anyone interested in the eco-rep program can come to the next meeting on Thursday, Oct. 15 in Goodpaster Hall, room 117.

Campus Turns Out the Lights to Celebrate Earth Hour

Students turned off their lights and met in the circle between the dorms for a cookout during Earth Hour. (Photo by Brendan Larrabee)
Students turned off their lights and met in the circle between the dorms for a cookout during Earth Hour. (Photo by Brendan Larrabee)

On March 28, lights went out across the globe at 8:30 p.m. local time.  Starting with New Zealand, countries around the world began to turn off their lights as part of Earth Hour 2009.  Las Vegas, Nevada, went dark, as did Times Square in New York City.

As the official Flagship Campus of Maryland for Earth Hour 2009, St. Mary’s was no different.  Starting at 8:30, Eastern Time, the lights in many of the residence halls, townhouses, suites and apartments went out one by one. With a variety of activities occurring across campus, there was no just sitting in the dark.  Students could chose between hide and seek and flashlight tag at Calvert, a block party at Prince George, Caroline, and Dorchester, s’mores and glow sticks at Queen Anne, and a bonfire at Waring Commons.

Earth Hour, started in Sydney in 2007 in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, is a global movement in which people turn off their lights at the appointed hour to “vote Earth.” Turning off the lights symbolizes supporting finding solutions to climate change and demonstrates concern for the planet.

The students at the College were among the millions of people who participated.  Earth Hour 2008 saw 36 million people and 200 million cities across the globe turning off the lights.  The results of Earth Hour 2009 will be presented at the 2009 Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Students Brave Snow, Police at Protest

Students protest coal energy use in front of the Capitol Power Plant, which supplies steam and cooled water to Congress. (Photo Submitted by Megan Kile)
Students protest coal energy use in front of the Capitol Power Plant, which supplies steam and cooled water to Congress. (Photo Submitted by Megan Kile)

Over a dozen St. Mary’s students passionate about the environment protested the use of coal energy in what has been called, “The biggest act of civil disobedience against global warming in American history”.

The protest against the Capitol Power Plant, which occurred Monday, March 2, was attended by over a hundred organizing groups, and led by Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network. According to Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) Co-President junior Elizabeth Brunner, over 3,000 people were in attendance, around 15 of whom were St. Mary’s students. Notable figures such as environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr. and head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies James Hansen were also in attendance.

Brunner said that the protest of this particular coal plant was a symbolic action against the national and international use of coal energy, a practice on which many environmental groups such as SEAC wish to put a moratorium.

According to Brunner, the Capitol Power Plant was specifically chosen because it provides steam and cooled water to Congress and because of its high visibility.

The burning of coal, according to Brunner, taints water and air, destroys the natural habitats of hundreds of species, and causes acid rain. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Burning coal is a leading source of global warming pollution.” However, coal is still a major source of energy in the U.S. because of the large infrastructure built around it and the economic interests surrounding it.

“No one wants to be the politician to put a moratorium on coal,” said SEAC Co-president junior Bethany Wetherill. “It is vastly unpopular because of the amount of workers in coal mines and because of the perceived costs of the switch to clean energy.”

With this knowledge, St. Mary’s students braved the frigid cold and quickly mounting snow. Morale, however, remained high. Brunner said, “It was one of the more positive events I’ve ever been to. It was uplifting.”

Other attendees echoed a similar sentiment. “It was really amazing to see all these people of different ages, races, and economic statuses coming together to speak out about the problem of global climate change in a powerful, nonviolent way,” said first-year Megan Kile. “It was that kind of energy; the idea that we were going to be doing something amazing, maybe even world-changing.”

Even law enforcement, which many feared would be hostile to the protest and attempt to arrest protesters, seemed to be in high spirits. Brunner said, “They were smiling, they were laughing, they were sort of cheering along with the chant and slogans…No one was arrested at all.”

The Capitol Coal Plant protest was by many accounts a complete success; protesters were able to block the plant’s entrances for a large portion of the day, effectively closing down the plant. More important, however, was the visibility and message the protest sent. Brunner said, “It was high profile, gained thousands of media hits, [and] sent a very clear message throughout the world and to Congress that there are thousands of people who care very deeply about this issue.”

According to Wetherill, there had been some speculation that a resolution would soon go through Congress to switch the plant over from coal to natural gas, a change that Brunner said “has its own problems.” However, no formal action has been taken by Congress other than non-binding calls from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid for the plant to make the switch.

This, however, does not mean that this protest was not the first step, “one of many” according to Wetherill, towards raising awareness of coal with the eventual goal of a full moratorium, which the protesters feel will lead to a cleaner environment.

82 St. Mary’s Students Get Eco-Active at Power Shift

SEAC Co-President Shane Hall, a senior, meets House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on lobby day. (Photo Submitted by Megan Kile)
SEAC Co-President Shane Hall, a senior, meets House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on lobby day. (Photo Submitted by Megan Kile)

On Feb. 27, over 11,000 people, most between the ages of 18 and 24, congregated in D.C. for the largest conference on energy and climate change in the nation’s history.  Power Shift 2009, run by the Energy Action Coalition, was held at the DC Convention Center from Friday, Feb. 27 to Monday, March 2.

The College registered 82 students, the tenth largest number from any school in the country.  The majority were from the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC).

The St. Mary’s students arrived in a charter bus and some school vans on Friday in time for the keynote speakers, who were followed by a concert featuring Santogold.

Over the next three days, students were able to attend a symposium, workshops, listen to more keynote speakers, attend a concert by the Roots, march to the White House, protest at a coal plant, attend a rally on the West Lawn, and lobby their Congressmen.

The conference officially opened on Friday with several speakers, including Congresswoman Donna Edwards and Congressman Ed Markey.  One of the many speakers of the weekend was Van Jones, an environmental and human rights activist.

“He was my favorite speaker by far,” said first-year Elena Gross.  “What he said made so much sense.  That was the biggest thing about the weekend — tying the environment into other issues and showing how all these issues intersect.”

While Power Shift 2009 was primarily an environmental conference, a constant theme of the weekend was the interconnectedness of the issues of the world.

“We’re all working for the same thing,” said Gross.  “What happens if we have a healthy planet but we still have so many problems within our societies?  Then we as a people die.  They’re in a very large sense the same issue.”

Many of the workshops combined environmental activism with other issues. Sophomore Aaron French attended one called “Hip-hop and eco-equity.” “It was three MC’s talking about how they’ve incorporated their music and their work, their poetry into the environmental activism they’ve been doing,” he said.

The workshops and panels covered a wide variety of topics.  From holding corporate businesses responsible for their actions to learning about organization and leadership from the grassroots level up, students had the opportunity to choose to learn about what interested them most.

“I went to a really awesome workshop on Sunday about agrobusinesses,” said sophomore Rachel Buffington.  “I’m already really into food….but it really inspired me to organize a program here.”
Many of the workshops were student led, several by students from the College.

Although students were able to attend two workshops on Sunday, the rest of the day was filled with training for the lobbying that would occur Monday, which many St. Mary’s students stayed for.

Lobby day trainers ran the students through scenarios where they prepared their presentations for their Congressmen and helped students learn how to keep the politicians on topic.

Students woke up on Monday to a city covered in several inches of snow and a message from the organizers that lobby day would still occur.  Thousands of students converged in the Capital to attend their scheduled meetings.

St. Mary’s students had a meeting with House Majority Leader and Board of Trustees member Steny Hoyer himself, and were taken in the tunnels under the Capital to a room that fit 75 people.  At least 100 were crammed inside.

“The outcome wasn’t negative, but it wasn’t as positive as I think everyone had hoped for.  I don’t think he’s against us at all.  He’s very dedicated to the environmental movement, he’s just doing it from a politician’s standpoint,” said Gross.  While Hoyer listened to the students’ points, he kept trying to steer the topic away to other issues.  Students spoke up angrily when he insisted that they were not the public and not representative of his constituents, prompting him to call one girl ‘defensive.’

“I don’t think he did understand that we are the public,” said Gross.  “There were over a hundred people in that room talking to him.  We represent what the people want.  I think there was a lot of miscommunication between the lobbyers and Steny that I think will be fixed over time especially with him being on the board here and with Danny [Ruthenberg-Marshall] as the student trustee.”

Power Shift 2009 wasn’t just filled with organized activities.  On Saturday night, after the Roots concert and a long day of panels and workshops, students gathered on the front steps of the D.C. Convention Center.

“I was standing around, and a person said we should go to the White House,” said French.  “Someone got a bullhorn and shouted….fifty people just started walking, so we ran back and yelled at everybody, and more people started coming, just hundreds and hundreds of people.  At first we started on the sidewalk,” he said, but soon, “people were dancing in the streets, photographers were running everywhere taking pictures.  We probably took up a solid two to four blocks.”

The students ended up at the back of the White House.  “There was one cop when we walked up,” said French, but soon, “There were about thirty cops there.  It was all peaceful.”  In the end, the group of about a thousand, “hung out and partied outside the white house for like forty-five minutes.”

The march was representative of the spirit of the weekend — everyone worked together and took small steps towards a larger goal while having fun.

Everyone was helpful.  “Especially if you didn’t know something, they took the time to explain it to you, to explain what you could do to help.  They were genuinely interested in what you had to say,” said Gross.

Students could just set down their bags and find them again at the end of the day.  One student lost a reusable water bottle and had it returned to her by a group who found it the day before.

“It was really cool at Power Shift to see 12,000 people of this generation who really cared about something.  And that was just 12,000 people who represented larger groups,” said Gross. “There were intercity people, there were a good amount of women and men, different races, different religions.  There was a place for everyone at Power Shift.”

St. Mary’s Tries Integrated Pest Management

bathouse
The bird house that was built outside the campus center to attract insect-eating Purple Martins. (Photo by Matt Molek)

This year, the College is setting up bird and bat houses in the hopes that their future denizens will cut down on the pest population.

The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program was brought to the college by Supervisor of Grounds Kevin Mercer after he heard about a similar program at the University of Maryland.  The program seeks to reduce the number of pests on campus in an environmentally friendly way.

Bird and bat houses were set up at two locations on campus, the most visible house being near St. John’s pond.  Carl Dyson, a certified arborist, helped with the installation of the bat houses.

“The birdhouses are going to hold Purple Martins, which are migratory birds, and combined with the bats, the population of insects should be cut down, especially mosquitoes,” said first-year Travis Lear.  Along with the Purple Martins, the college is hoping to attract Hoary and Little Brown bats.

Although the Purple Martins will likely establish themselves with in a year or two, it takes several years to attract bats to a new location.  The placement of the bat houses near the water (a ready mosquito source) is intended to help facilitate their switch to a new home.

The IPM is not a one-time program.  “The program is looking for people to help maintain the birdhouses (not really the bat houses as they are about forty feet up a tree) by cleaning them out after migration of the Purple Martins, and ‘winterizing’ the houses by sealing them, preventing other species from nesting there,” said Lear.

“Down the road, I’m going to be installing bluebird houses in our meadow,” said Mercer.  The school is also planning to install light traps for insects.

Although the IPM program intends to reduce the number of insects, it will not eliminate them completely.

“This is a program that’s going to help work with the sustainability to help biologically control the pests,” said Mercer. “First and foremost, this is not a plan to have zero pesticides.”  The school will always need them, he said, but environmentally friendly varieties can be used instead.

Already, “we don’t put any insecticides down on our grass,” he said.  For now, those involved with the IPM program will make sure that the birds and bats establish themselves in the houses.

“I hate disturbing the environment,” said Mercer, “so I hope the bat houses are in [the right] location.”

Is a Sprinkler System on the Greens Necessary?

To the College Community:

I am writing in response to the irrigation system that has been installed on the Townhouse Greens.  Although the system may improve campus aesthetics, it runs counter to many of the ideals that we purport to hold as a campus community.  Saint Mary’s College has consistently made a concerted effort to control tuition in the interest of providing a high quality education at an affordable price.  In the current economic conditions, it seems that the College should be making every effort to control spending and cut costs on all non-essential projects.  That being said, it seems to me that the irrigation system is in no way essential and in fact perhaps detrimental.

The benefits an irrigation system are limited to certain circumstances such as graduation and River Concert Series, both of which do not serve to improve students’ educational experiences at Saint Mary’s. Both events occur when the vast majority of undergraduates are not on campus and therefore benefit very few students. Those in attendance are less concerned with the quality of the landscape and more concerned with the quality of the performance or celebration that they have come to participate in. This is not to say that the River Concert Series and graduation ceremonies do not contribute the overall atmosphere of Saint Mary’s, but instead those in attendance are not concerned with the triviality of the quality of grass under foot.

Environmental policies designed to protect the Saint Mary’s River and the larger Chesapeake Bay area have been largely supported by the student body and lauded by administrators as reflecting students’ overall conscientiousness.  Green initiatives have been widely accepted as necessary to sustainable development, and this eco-friendly atmosphere is part of what defines Saint Mary’s. If and when there is a specific need to irrigate the Townhouse Greens, this can be facilitated with the use of temporary installation systems, rather than a costly permanent system.

Beyond the reasons above, the irrigation system is representative of a deterioration in the accountability that the students feel in maintaining their community and the communication between the administration, Buildings and Grounds and the student body. The fact that the administration did little to notify the students of the plan and only did so when construction was slated to begin is indicative of a breakdown in these lines of communication. If administrators had outlined their concerns and intentions of installing an irrigation system, students would have had the opportunity to make a concerted effort to reverse their destructive behavior that has continually compromised the appearance of the greens and our campus as whole.

-Madeline Eberhardt ’08 is currently an MAT student

College Recovers, Looks Ahead after REC Setback

St. Mary’s students are looking towards a future of on-site renewable energy after a mistake by the college’s energy provider left 40 percent of the college’s energy consumption uncovered by Renewable Energy Credits (RECs).

These new plans arose after the College found that the Southern Maryland Energy Cooperative (SMECO) had neglected to read the largest of St. Mary’s four energy meters for the past three years. The mistaken bills that SMECO sent the College were used to judge the amount of RECs needed to offset the College’s energy use. The College was left with a substantial hole in its REC coverage.

To counteract this, plans have been put in place to cover this year’s REC deficit, and to cover the College further in the future.

According to SGA President senior Sunny Schnitzer, funds from the SGA’s special carry-over budget, which contains excess tuition money not spent on the College’s operating budget, will be used to buy enough RECs to cover the College’s energy consumption for this year.

The rest of these RECs will be bought from Clean Currents, as were the majority of RECs bought within the past three years. Clean Currents is a Rockville, MD organization that provides wind power-based RECs, which are some of the most environmentally friendly credits available. According to Schnitzer, however, buying a contract with Clean Currents to cover all of the College’s energy use is too expensive for the long-term.

For next year, members of the Sustainability Committee, Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), Student Government Association (SGA), and other concerned students plan to use this debacle as an opportunity to move away from RECs and towards on-site renewable energy.

According to Sustainability Coordinator Christophe Bornand, the first step to be taken next school year will be to change the college’s REC provider from Clean Currents to cheaper providers that can be bought through SMECO. According to Sustainability Fellow Meredith Epstein, ‘08, this will save the College more than $3 per megawatt, and will leave around $30,000 in the green energy fund for on-site projects. However, Schnitzer pointed out that the Sustainability Committee and the SGA were still getting quotes from different companies, and that no particular provider has been decided upon.

Going with less expensive RECs, however, means that the College will be investing in forms of energy that, although renewable, are still somewhat toxic to the environment. According to Bornand, there is some concern that cheaper RECs may generate their own pollution and may not offset electrical consumption properly.

According to Sustainability Fellow Rachel Clement ‘08, although less expensive RECs may not be as environmentally-friendly, the savings provided by the change to cheaper RECs will go into research and development on new forms of renewable energy that could eventually take the College completely off the traditional power grid. Clement said that solar hot water heating, which consists of solar thermal collectors and fluid systems to move the heat from the collector to its point of usage, is “at the front of our discussion.”  She also said that other possible on-site renewable energy sources could include small or large wind turbines or larger solar arrays to complement the solar panel currently on the roof of the library.

However, both Fellows also acknowledge that many steps must be taken before on-site renewable energy can be implemented. Clement said, “We have to research what is the most viable form of renewable energy for St. Mary’s.”

There is also the matter of paying for these forms of renewable energy, which will at first take more money than the green energy fund can provide. Any viable on-site renewable energy option would require a significant investment, but would pay for itself in time. Epstein said, “People tend to think what’s feasible is what’s immediately the most economical, but we’re talking about things that will cost a lot up front and pay us back really fast, and will save us a lot of money in the future.”   Because of this, the Sustainability Committee has been researching different possible grants that could help pay for this on-site power generation.  Epstein also said, “It’s being talked about that we would offer to different organizations and firms that St. Mary’s be used as a test site for new renewable technologies, so that we actually wouldn’t have to pay for, for example, the latest edition in high-efficiency solar panels.”

Regardless of the path St. Mary’s takes on its way to energy independence, the goal is still daunting. “[Energy independence] is not going to happen in the short term,” Bornand said. “It’s going to take a lot of time.” However, if the college ever does become energy independent, it will be steps like this that makes it happen.
“I think [energy independence] is possible, and that we’re on the right track,” said Schnitzer.

All who would like to have their input heard on the issue of on-site renewable energy can send ideas and feedback to sustainability@smcm.edu.