The referendum approved by the Undergraduate Council last night will ask students whether the College should join the Kennedy School of Government (KSG) and the School of Public Health (HSPH) in purchasing a significant amount of renewable energy.
The question, which will appear on the online ballot for council president, will ask students if they support a new clean energy fee on their termbill and if so, whether the $10 yearly charge should be opt-in, opt-out or mandatory.
The Harvard Environmental Action Committee (EAC), which endorses the opt-out option, estimates that $10 from each of the College’s 6,559 undergraduates would pay for about 4 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of renewable energy—roughly 25 percent of the College dorms’ annual electricity consumption, or the total yearly production of one state-of-the-art wind turbine.
The purchase would represent taking 482 cars off the road for one year and equal the annual electricity use of 370 average American homes, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
At issue is the College’s purchase of renewable energy certificates (RECs)—tradable units that represent the output of a wind farm somewhere in the country. If the referendum passes, most of Harvard’s actual electricity would still come from nuclear and fossil fuel power plants in New England, while the premium it would pay for the certificates would go to renewable energy sources in Texas, Colorado and Minnesota, among other states.
“You’re counterbalancing your own coal use with someone else’s use of wind,” explains Alexander L. Pasternack ’05, who helped organize the Harvard Students for Clean Energy group, which co-sponsored the referendum proposal together with the EAC.
The theory goes that as demand for RECs rises, wind farms become more lucrative, in turn enticing companies to build more of them and reducing the nation’s consumption of “dirty” energy.
“The hope in this kind of program is that by making renewable energy more attractive [for entrepreneurs]—by underwriting some of the startup costs and so on—it’ll be more attractive to build more facilities,” says Larry Black, the KSG buildings manager.
WINDS OF CHANGE
For weeks, members of the EAC have been arguing that renewable energy is a crucial first step to bringing the environmental benefits of wind power to Boston.
Among those working the hardest for the campus-wide referendum have been Pasternack, who is also a Crimson editor, and Allison I. Rogers ’04.
After graduating in June, Rogers has stayed in Cambridge through a Harvard University Management Fellowship and has continued her push for renewable energy, which she began last spring as a council representative.
Rogers now works for the Harvard Green Campus Initiative, a University-wide organization to promote environmental sustainability, and also advises the EAC in its pursuit of clean energy.
Over the past few weeks, the energy campaign has consumed many of its supporters’ waking hours, as they lobbied council representatives in advance of last week’s votes and prepared an all-out effort to win student support for a new fee.
Before submitting the referendum bill to the Student Affairs Committee (SAC) last Tuesday, proponents of renewable energy for the College spent so much time debating the best way to pursue their goal that they almost ran out of time to push a referendum onto the presidential ballot, which has historically drawn higher participation than other campus-wide votes.