Ellwood’s decision brings an end to a student-led initiative that attached a $5 wind energy surcharge to each semester’s tuition bill. The initiative, which was backed by 58 percent of students voting in a school-wide referendum last February, made KSG the first and only Harvard school to satisfy 100 percent of its electricity needs through clean energy.
Unlike the optional fee that undergraduates at the College approved in a December referendum, KSG students voted to make the clean energy surcharge mandatory.
“Student response has been overwhelmingly positive” in the two semesters since the surcharge was implemented, KSG spokesman Doug Gavel said yesterday. But Ellwood balked at the notion of imposing an additional expense on students.
“As a dean fighting to reduce the cost of education by increasing aid and loan forgiveness, I was quite uncomfortable with adding additional fees to student term bills—regardless of how noble the cause,” Ellwood said yesterday. In his first six months as the KSG’s top administrator, Ellwood has sought to fund the growth of the school’s popular Loan Repayment Assistance Program, which helps KSG grads who take low-salary public sector jobs erase their student debt. The switch to wind energy costs the school an additional $9,000 per year, Gavel said. The school, which ran a $1.1 million surplus last fiscal year, will pick up the tab starting next semester.
SUMMERS COOL TO TERMBILL FEE
Ellwood becomes the latest administrator to voice objections to the idea of financing wind energy certificates through termbill surcharges.
University President Lawrence H. Summers said in an interview Wednesday that “the term bill is to finance the educational mission of the University—not to finance social action of any kind.”
“We believe that students’ charitable or environmental instincts are things they should finance directly rather than through the University with environmental check-offs,” Summers said.
Summers emphasized that “the University is very committed to being environmentally responsible,” and he said he expected Harvard to make a direct clean energy purchase that would far exceed any potential revenues from an optional termbill fee.
But Alexander L. Pasternack ’05, an organizer of the Harvard Students for Clean Energy group, said that a termbill fee brings an educational benefit that would not be matched by direct administrative purchases of wind power.
“Every time someone looks at the termbill—even a parent—they’re confronted with this issue,” said Pasternack, who is also a Crimson editor.
The optional clean energy termbill surcharge drew overwhelming support from undergraduates in December’s referendum, with 82 percent of voters supporting the fee. Later this month, Pasternack’s group will go before the Faculty Council, which must approve any new termbill charge.
Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 has said he will not recommend that the Council approve the clean energy measure.
Pasternack said he thought that a collaborative purchase of wind energy by College administrators and students “would be the most productive way of getting the most renewable energy soonest.”
But Pasternack also noted that the administrative funds going toward wind energy purchases could otherwise be used to cut tuition. “Ultimately someone’s going to be paying for [wind energy], and it’s probably going to be the students no matter what,” he said.
Ellwood’s move could provide a new impetus for College administrators to channel budget funds toward wind energy purchases.
The School of Public Health also offsets about half its electricity load through wind power certificates, although funds for that program come from the school’s administrative budget—not from student termbill surcharges.
The electric load accounts for approximately half of campus buildings’ energy use. The other half goes primarily toward heating and cooling needs. KSG does not fill its heating and cooling needs through wind energy.
—Staff writer Daniel J. Hemel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Anton S. Troianovski can be reached at email@example.com.