By Liz Ivkovich, University of Utah Sustainability Office
Medical equipment that helps treat and cure hospital patients, big data computer servers critical to research, hundreds of classrooms lit and climate-controlled – carrying out the mission of University of Utah requires a lot of electricity.
Soon, 50 percent of that electricity will come from carbon-free solar and geothermal energy sources, reducing the university’s total carbon emissions by 25 percent. This means that the U will have the largest long-term green power contract of any U.S. university. With this project, the University of Utah rises to the top of universities in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of Green Power Partnership Long-Term Contracts.
In 2008, the university joined the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, dedicating the campus to carbon neutrality by 2050. This is an aggressive goal that requires a multi-layered strategy, including this off-site power purchasing agreement, as well as energy efficiency measures and on-campus energy.
The agreement between the university, Cyrq Energy, a Utah company based in Salt Lake City, and Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables, will provide 20 megawatts of geothermal energy and 10 megawatts of solar energy to the university for the next 25 years.
“This project connects the university to a diverse array of energy resources that are important to the economic health of our state,” said U President David W. Pershing. “Both our Energy and Geoscience Institute and our Department of Geology and Geophysics are known for their work on geothermal resources. We are pleased to be part of a project that so closely aligns with our research strengths and allows the university to take a dramatic step forward on its climate commitment and toward improving air quality.”
The project began last summer when, as a result of partners in the Energy and Geoscience Institute, the university became aware of geothermal projects that were coming online. Geothermal power plants access energy from the earth through drilling water or steam wells to provide a steady resource with less fluctuation in energy production than an intermittent resource like solar or wind.
The university then engaged in a series of technical reviews of renewable energy options that might work for the university’s needs. Following these reviews, the planning team drafted a request for proposals calling for 20 megawatts of geothermal energy and up to 10 megawatts of complementary solar. The final proposal accepted was a joint proposal from Cyrq and Berkshire Hathaway Energy.
“Cyrq is honored to partner with Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Rocky Mountain Power and the U on this exceptional project, and we look forward to supporting the university’s renewable energy goals,” said Nick Goodman, Cyrq CEO.
In order to be finalized, the university must enter into an agreement with Rocky Mountain Power under Schedule 32 for the transmission of the renewable power along Rocky Mountain Power’s network. All agreements are subject to review by the Public Service Commission.
With this contract and the power generated by existing on-campus solar PV projects, the university’s annual green power purchase rises to 173,328,700 kilowatt hours (kWh). This is the largest long-term contract kWh for any university on the EPA’s list of Green Power Partnership Long-Term Contracts.
“This is a big move forward for the University of Utah, and we have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with many terrific partners, including the Sustainability and Energy Management Team in Facilities.,” Wildermuth said. “Their hard work to improve our energy efficiency and systems is what made an arrangement like this possible. But we are not done. There is still more we can do to reduce our energy use, our air emissions and our carbon footprint.”
The university is committed to a multi-layered carbon-neutrality strategy, including energy efficiency measures and on-site energy creation like rooftop solar and solar parking canopies. A study is underway to determine what additional percentage of the university’s energy demand could be produced on campus and where those projects might be located. In addition to working on university emissions, the U has also helped to spur the local renewable energy market through U Community Solar, an innovative group purchasing program.
Carbon-neutrality by 2050? We’re one big step closer.