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ENVIRONMENT: Climate of change

From something as simple as reminding computer users to power down when not working, to something as complex as mitigating carbon dioxide emissions from the steam plant, to even something as controversial as closing University Avenue to vehicles,...

UND
UND

From something as simple as reminding computer users to power down when not working, to something as complex as mitigating carbon dioxide emissions from the steam plant, to even something as controversial as closing University Avenue to vehicles, a UND committee is proposing a series of changes to reduce the university's impact on the climate.

The draft Climate Action Plan, released Friday, sets a goal of cutting emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 51 percent by 2050.

That doesn't sound very drastic, but it would be an uphill battle for the university at this point. Emissions have increased 15.5 percent since 1990, which UND said may be caused by increased research activities. If the university were to achieve the 2020 goal now, it would have to cut emissions by 19.7 percent or about 2 percent a year.

The costs of these goals still are largely undefined by the plan. Some of the proposals have cost estimates, but most do not specify the amount of greenhouse gas reduced.

The plan, produced by the Council on Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability, is part of the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment that former UND President Charles Kupchella signed in January 2008. His successor, President Robert Kelley, remains committed to the agreement.

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The agreement also calls for a target date for so-called "climate neutrality," meaning either reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero or offsetting emissions by planting trees or using technology to store similar amounts of greenhouse gas in the ground. Greenhouse gases, many scientists agree, increase the amount of heat Earth's atmosphere retains causing potentially damaging changes in climates globally and eventually raising sea levels.

UND's draft plan does not specify the climate neutral goal date. The plan is available for public comment through May 9.

So far in North Dakota, UND and Minot State University are the only signatories.

Here are some proposals in UND's plan:

Coal plant

The single biggest source of greenhouse gas on campus is the coal-powered steam plant, which accounts for about 61.7 percent of all campus emissions. The next biggest source, at 17.6 percent, is purchased electricity.

Because of this, some environmental student groups have tried to pressure the administration to commit to shutting down the plant and use alternative energy sources. UND's plan doesn't quite do this. Instead, it finds ways to mitigate the emissions:

- The boilers could be retrofitted to burn a blend of coal and up to 10 percent of biomass, a term that encompasses agricultural waste, grass and wood.

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- Ground-source heat pumps could be used for heating of individual buildings, though the plan recognizes that "a large heat pump energy center ... could theoretically replace the steam plant."

- Solar energy could be used for generating steam, either to displace some steam from the coal plant or to preheat water at the plant to reduce the amount of coal needed to generate steam.

- Energy crops could be planted by the university and used as biomass.

- Coal-based briquettes, which have had the carbon dioxide removed from them, could replace raw coal.

- Wind turbines could be used to generate electricity on campus.

Changing habits

Another major source of greenhouse gas emission is students, faculty and staff driving vehicles to get to and around campus, totaling about 7.1 percent of emissions. The Climate Action Plan proposes, in effect, to engage in the difficult task of changing habits:

- Walking and biking could be promoted through financial incentives. Students could, for example, be offered a cash payment to not bring cars to campus.

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- Free bikes could be offered for "checkout" throughout campus with bike stations collecting credit card information to discourage theft.

- University Avenue could be converted into a "pedestrian mall" with access for buses and emergency vehicles only. That is, private vehicles would not be allowed. The plan recognizes that this would be "clearly controversial," but argues the move would have a variety of benefits, such as reducing traffic, improve the "livability" of campus and discouraging driving on campus.

To see the full report, go to www2.und.edu/our/sustainability/html/climateactionplan.html.

Reach Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to ttran@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: ENVIRONMENT
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