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UWRF aims to run on all renewable energy by 2012

October 2, 2008

  Last semester’s deliberative polling recently presented results which show what UW-River Falls students think about the University’s plan for “going off the grid” by 2012.

  A total of 62 students completed the survey by either attending the workshop or taking it online and were provided with a briefing booklet for each. The survey consisted of fact-based questions to find out how much students knew about the issues at hand and opinion-based questions regarding global warming, the University’s alternatives to complete the challenge and how to pay for the plan.

  “Agree” or “strongly agree” were selected by 95 percent of students who took the survey for the funding option for the plan to lobby the state for funds, according to the results.

  Another option for raising student’s tuition received 65 percent of the students in favor.

  “I was surprised to see that students were actually in favor of increasing their tuition,” David Trechter, director of the survey research center and chair of the UWRF agricultural economics department, said.

  Receiving compensation from carbon reduction offset credits for funding is a possibility. The state, in conjunction with lending, may also give incentive money for renewable energy programs within institutions, Trechter said.

  “I am an advocate for renewable energy,” student Brady Wendt said. “I would be willing to pay an extra $100 for the school’s plan.”

  According to the survey, 94 percent of the participating students agree that UWRF should replace older equipment on campus. Aside from the new semi-sustainable University Center and the remodeling of Kleinpell Fine Arts’ ventilation system, facilities management has been running tests regarding wood burning in the smokestack as opposed to coal.

  “The problem with that is we’re burning fossil fuel by bringing the woodchips there when you add that to our carbon footprint,” Trechter said. “Electricity is one-fourth of the campus’ energy use and the other part of that is heating and cooling. We’ve ran tests and there are issues.”

  This winter, they will continue the testing of burning wood biomass at the heating plant. If the tests prove to be successful, they will replace the burning of coal and natural gas with the wood biomass, a local and renewable source of energy for the campus heating needs.

  “If the wind survey is positive and the heating plant test firing is successful we have a very good chance of meeting the very aggressive 2012 goal,” Facilities Manager Tim Thum said.

  Until the time comes when the University installs one or more commercial wind turbines, 40 percent of the electricity used on campus is purchased as renewable block electricity, according to Thum.

  Renewable energy is purchased by the Wisconsin Public Power Inc. (WPPI). One block is the equivalent to 300 kilowatt-hours (kWh). When purchased, an additional $3 is added to the monthly energy bill for every block. By purchasing one 300-kWh block of renewable energy each month for a year, customers will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 8,000 pounds annually.

  A different survey was conducted in February by the UWRF Survey Research Center of Western Wisconsin’s public institutions and their renewable energy ideas and use. Results showed that three out of 88 organizations that responded (including universities, school districts, hospitals and municipalities) have goals for renewable energy use. These three included Barron and Eau Claire Counties and the UWRF campus.

  WPPI is the energy provider for River Falls and offers renewable energy programs and services. The majority of the other institutions of Western Wisconsin have companies such as Xcel Energy, which does not provide any such program that allows for the purchase of renewable energy blocks.

  “Some did not have goals have renewable energy mandates and still purchase energy blocks. And this is just a starting point. We would like to find out about private institutions and households,” Shelly Hadley, research specialist and lead author of the survey report, said. “It’s an apparent high priority of the city.”