‘Roadmap’ guides SUNY’s 60+ schools on clean energy updates

‘Roadmap’ guides SUNY’s 60+ schools on clean energy updates

The roof-top gardens at Drake Memorial Library at SUNY Brockport. (Jess Buttery/Creative Commons)

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The State University of New York system already is known for offering free education for everyone who qualifies — and for being one of the largest state university systems in the country. Now they want to be known for something else: Going green.

Sustainability is something that is becoming more of a necessity for colleges and universities to not only answer a call to action from students but to have a more positive effect on the planet. The SUNY system is doing their part with its Clean Energy Roadmap that all SUNY schools must follow. 

The new plan, released by the SUNY Chancellor in April, coincides with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030. With more than 60 campuses and almost a half million students enrolled in the SUNY system, the universities are taking on a huge burden to make their schools more sustainable. 

The SUNY system has been known to take climate issues seriously and enact change. According to a SUNY report starting back in 1990, the system was able to cut its carbon emissions by 770,000 metric tons by 2017, which was a 25% decrease in that span. Becoming more environmentally friendly also has been a better decision financially for SUNY since in the last decade they have saved more than $19 million in energy costs. 

Kevin Rice, the director of plant and energy management at SUNY Brockport, said there are certain challenges when it comes to making a campus less harmful to the environment — even at smaller schools like Brockport, with only around 10,000 enrolled underclassmen.

“I believe any transition to eco-friendly systems is about even for all sized institutes. It’s really dependent upon access to investment money,” Rice said via email.

Since the sustainability program was first announced, SUNY Brockport already has accomplished some green initiatives on campus.

“The college has replaced around 80% of our boilers to high efficient models with variable frequency drives for circulation,” Rice said. “We have had multiple small projects to upgrade almost 90% of our lighting to LED. We have radically improved our energy control systems and now have close to 25,000 control points in our system that controls HVACR (Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning and Refrigeration) in all buildings.”

But these are just highlights from one institution. All the colleges in the SUNY system are working together to make sure the goals proposed in the roadmap are being met. Albany has become the headquarters for the Clean Energy Roadmap. There other schools can communicate and plan the best course of action of managing their waste and energy, according to Rice. 

Communication is “mostly led by the SUNY energy management office in Albany,” Rice said. “They use workshops, conferences, webinars and newsletters to get info out. Lots of ideas and best practices shared.”

Outside of Albany a school that has been able to lead by example is SUNY Stony Brook. According to Dean Tufts who is the Vice President of Facilities and Services at Stony Brook, who cited the university’s past when it comes to energy conservation.

“We are proud to help lead not only SUNY, but all of New York State, when it comes to energy conservation,” Tufts said. “SUNY is the largest consumer of energy of all the New York State agencies, and Stony Brook University is the largest consumer within SUNY.  With Stony Brook representing 18% of SUNY’s total energy use, and 8% of the total energy used in all New York State-owned buildings, we understand and embrace our responsibility to help lead this effort,” Tufts added.

The plan SUNY proposed aims to create a more energy-efficient campuses by enforcing new building efficiency standards and new practices for energy management, as well as a new clean energy taskforce to oversee the whole system of schools. 

The SUNY system also wants to become a driving force in energy efficiency, with plans to use its research facilities to help drive innovations in the area.

Stony Brook already has eliminated more than 16,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions while saving $50 million with energy-saving upgrades, and received $500,000 in energy efficiency rebates, according to a report by Long Island Business News. Stony Brook is also set to receive $79 million from Gov. Cuomo. The school plans to use this funding to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 28,000 tons, worth an additional $6 million in energy savings.

Tufts stated how the school has saved millions.

“In spite of the campus adding nearly 1.5 million square feet of buildings since 2010, Stony Brook University’s energy conservation projects along with better operation of our central plants have reduced our energy usage by 16%. By the end of 2020, our energy reduction will equate to more than $12 million in avoided utility costs annually,” Tufts said.

As SUNY becomes a leader in sustainability people can look at this as a sign that more and more institutions like colleges are taking the threat that is climate change very seriously, which would help keep the planet clean for generations to come.

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