Listen: How Penn State Is Cutting Greenhouse Emissions In Half And Saving Money
"How can a community grow in population while cutting carbon emissions? That is the challenge facing the whole planet in the fight against climate change. NPR's NPR's Dan Charles reports on how Penn State University is doing that from the top of beaver Stadium One of the very biggest stadiums in the entire world. You can see just part of Penn State's vast and beautiful campus. You picked a spectacular day. Come visit. Didn't you rob. Cooper is the university's director of Engineering and energy. We've got six hundred major buildings here over twenty two million square feet parking lots with thousands of cars a couple of gas burning steam plants for for heating. We have our own water system wells. We have our own wastewater plant. Basically it's a city with sixty thousand people when students are on campus a lot more when there's walking and like most American cities it runs largely on fossil fuels releasing hundreds of thousands of tons of greenhouse gases every year from those steam plants from from power stations far away that supply electricity from the cars that people drive to campus from aircraft that faculty take to conferences. Penn state has added up all those emissions over the past twenty years and it makes kind of an amazing Graf twenty years ago the line was going up up up the university was growing more people more buildings burning more coal and gas just like the rest of America and then you get to two thousand four and the lines suddenly changes direction. It starts falling like it's rolling down a mountain and it's been falling ever since even though the university still growing yeah. We've been pretty successful over the last fifteen years. I wanted to know how it happened so I went to see Professor Chris. You'll I'm in the department of Biology and my guest passion is with ecology. In the mid nineteen ninety s you'll help organize a small mall environmental movement on campus. There were students calculating greenhouse emissions from specific buildings looking at technical alternatives. When we unveiled these different reports we would meet eat on the steps of old main. Which is you know? It's like this big center. The university and lots of people showed up you know the press was there. They put the university under pressure and as it happened these activists had some allies deep inside the university administration building engineers maintenance guys led by a former navy officer named Ford striker who was in charge of buildings and construction. We've seen a lot of evidence that global warming was a real thing and we you know we were concerned about it. Striker pulled off a classic bureaucratic move. He convinced the university president to declare environmental stewardship and official priority. The pressure from students probably helped this. This gave him leverage inside the administration. He got the university to set up a fund to pay for upgrades that cut greenhouse emissions. It took a while to get the budget guys in You know in a finance guys to agree but you know we're like they. They had to be convinced that it was money. That could be paid back. Oh Yeah Heck Yeah I mean we had to demonstrate mm straight to we're actually saving money and this is what turned around that graph of greenhouse emissions a whole bunch of projects that cut the university's demand for energy and they typically really paid for themselves within ten years through Lower Energy Bills Rob Cooper who worked for striker says some what they did was really basic like fine tuning heating and air conditioning questioning systems and you'd be surprised what you find when you try to tune up buildings. HVAC system. It's one of the shortest paybacks consistently three to five years on on every building that we go into in the central heating plant. They switched the fuel from coal to natural gas. They installed new energy saving motors and windows this here. The university signed a deal to buy electricity from a new five hundred acre solar farm. Here's Andrew Gut Berlet Penn State's manager of Engineering Services. Every time we looked at added before the economics weren't there we could not get solar power or any renewable energy for less than we were buying it off the grid until now now penn state's greenhouse emissions now are down by a third compared to the peak in two thousand four in a few years with solar power rolling in they should be down almost fifty percent which which seems really hopeful because in principle any city could do this. The country could in essence. We are demonstrating that this can be done to notes of caution though I I ben States not irregular city with thousands of homeowners making their own decisions it owns all the buildings and heating plans. It can make decisions that take ten years to pay off and the second caution is cutting emissions in half is good but it's not enough not if you're really trying to stop global warming so penn state has a much more ambitious. Just go an eighty percent reduction by twenty fifty. Some people on campus are pushing for one hundred percent so I ask shelley mccaig the person at Penn State. WHO's in charge of measuring those emissions. Are you going to make that goal. You're asking me we we need to. I mean do. We have a concrete plan to get there. We we do not and there is the country doesn't either but they are studying lots of possibilities figuring out how much each one would cost what it would accomplish so far. They are on track to reach their goal."