In response to a growing demand for sustainability, the Faculty Senate unanimously approved a resolution to increase the use of renewable energy sources at West Virginia University.
The resolution says, “We therefore resolve that Faculty Senate urges West Virginia University to perform a greenhouse gas inventory annually, to supply 25% of its energy demand from renewable sources generated in West Virginia by 2030 and to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.”
Sustainability Committee member and former chair Shawn Grushecky, a professor in the Davis College, introduced this resolution at the May faculty senate meeting.
“Over 60% of land grant institutions in the U.S. have some sort of published goals to achieve sustainability, reduce emissions or achieve some sort of carbon neutrality — WVU not being one of those,” Grushecky said. “And more and more students are starting to use this university’s commitment to sustainability in their decision.”
According to the Sustainability Committee’s September 2020 report, 62% of land grant institutions have published goals and 71% of the 24 institutions with available information have pledged to meet their goals by 2050.
Most of the energy on campus comes from burning waste coal, which can no longer be used in traditional power plants, and from the grid, Grushecky explained.
Grushecky named geothermal energy as a potential source of renewable energy for West Virginia in the future. He also said that the University can take on smaller projects such as installing solar panels over parking areas and rooftops on campus.
According to Grushecky one of the biggest obstacles to switching to renewable energy is the infrastructure in place.
Acknowledging the long history of energy production in West Virginia, Grushecky emphasized the importance of keeping energy production within the state.
“We want to see West Virginia use renewable sources, but we want to make sure that that energy production comes from the state,” he said.
Grushecky explained that switching to renewable energy will take time. “As much as people want to switch overnight. It's not an overnight sort of thing,” he said.
The faculty senate’s push for sustainability is not isolated from the rest of the campus community. Grushecky discussed the efforts of the Office of Sustainability and of various student groups.
In April 2021, West Virginia University was awarded a silver rating from The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS). This rating will be valid through March 29, 2024.
The STARS rankings include platinum, gold, silver, bronze and reporter. Scores are based on academics, engagement, operations, planning and administration, and innovation and leadership.
Grushecky pointed out the importance of student participation in urging the university to switch to renewable energy sources.
“We've done this resolution. Now, it's up to us to kind of keep pushing that it's important,” he said. “It's important for students to push that thing. That's where they're really gonna listen.”