and Campus Sustainability Efforts
By Annika Kolasa
In response to a December 2014 request for proposals, Vermont Law School received seven offers from regional solar energy developers to construct and own a 500-kW solar installation whose net-metering credits and associated renewable energy credits would be sold to VLS for the next 20 years, significantly reducing campus electric greenhouse gas emissions. In line with the school’s sustainability commitment, this contract would meet half the school’s electricity needs through solar energy. Based on the proposals received, a 20-year solar net-metering contract would both reduce the campus electric bill and, more important, reduce the VLS, as well as Vermont’s carbon footprint. The RFP was drafted by students (including the authors of this article) at the new VLS Energy Clinic, a pro-bono energy law and policy clinic, staffed by JD and masters students, that provides policy advice to groups looking to advance the economic and environmental benefits of community-based solar in Vermont. The Energy Clinic is part of Vermont Law School’s decade-old Institute for Energy and the Environment and top-ranked Environmental Law Center.
VLS’s proposal would allow it to own, with the intent to retire, the renewable energy credits, while the developer chooses a site and maintains ownership of the solar array. The 500kW array need not be on campus to qualify – any array of up to that capacity tied to the Green Mountain Power grid is eligible to receive net metering credits, which the school will use to offset its electricity requirements. Ownership of the Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) is an integral part of the RFP. For each unit of energy produced, one unit of an “environmental attribute” is created at the same time – a REC — a tradable commodity valuable to electricity providers trying to meet their states’ Renewable Portfolio Standards. If these RECs are sold out of state rather than retired by the end user, those purchasing the net-metering credits, according to accepted greenhouse gas accounting, receive the less-environmental attributes of the residual mix of the New England grid and not low-carbon solar energy. Purchasing net-metering credits without the RECs would increase both the VLS (and Vermont) greenhouse gas emissions.
The VLS solar RFP is part of a larger campus sustainability planning effort. In 2012, Dean Marc Mihaly signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. That same year, VLS was able to create a Green Revolving Fund, with a $200,000 contribution from an anonymous donor, $50,000 from the Board of Trustees, and later a $10,500 contribution from the 2013 Class Gift. The fund finances projects that reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions. During the 2013-14 academic year, the Campus Sustainability Committee, which oversees the fund, completed a greenhouse gas inventory documenting emissions for the campus. Including transportation, heating fuels, and electricity, the school is responsible for 1 million pounds of CO2 per year.
In addition to the solar RFP, VLS has installed two on-campus solar arrays, at the entrance to campus and on top of the student fitness center, for a total of 33kW. The green revolving fund has also financed seven electric vehicle charging ports, the replacement of campus parking lighting with more efficient LED lighting, energy audits on the most inefficient buildings on campus, and building envelope insulation – all priority projects identified in the energy audits. Over the life of the projects, 100% of the project costs are returned to the green revolving fund to support future green investment. Students have also done their part to fight climate change and pollution, passing a student resolution to ask the trustees to look into divesting from fossil fuels.
1 Annika and Jacinta Ritchie co-authored the RFP. Both are members of the VLS Energy Clinic and 2015 Juris Doctor degree candidates at VLS with a concentration in energy law.