Sustainability Panel: April 14, 2014

April 15, 2014 at 8:31 pm Leave a comment

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Last night students, professors, and administrators gathered to discuss sustainability options in reference to UNC’s endowment portfolio and its investments. The panel featured Dr. Carol Hee, Bill Currens, and Christopher Demetropoulos.

Dr. Carol Hee is the director of the Center for Sustainable Enterprise and a professor at the Kenan-Flagler Business School. She stated last night that the “economics of renewables are showing a more favorable trend” and presented a slideshow on ways UNC could be more of a leader in sustainability.

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Her presentation included seven recommendations for the University:

1. UNC should prioritize climate literacy to educate internal and external stakeholders

  • The education budget should be increased

2. UNC’s scientific research should be viewed as a valuable contributor to NC’s economy

3. Stakeholders interested in the growth of renewables should engage policy makers

  • Advocates should link renewables to economic opportunity

4. UNC should continue to model climate stewardship and UNC stakeholders should recognize the associated rewards

5. Additional financial support should be given to sustainability initiatives

6. UNC should implement a comprehensive approach to sustainable investing

7. More students and community members should take advantage of the educational opportunities offered

  • There are over 330 sustainability classes offered at the University

She pointed out that UNC already has goals of becoming climate neutral by 2050, and coal free by 2020. The first step towards this will be the conversion of the coal plant on campus which will be converted to biomass by May 1st, 2020.

After Carol’s presentation Bill Currens, Duke Energy’s vice president of investor relations, demonstrated his slide show on Duke’s energy portfolio, and where they expect to go in the future. Duke Energy, founded in 1904, is currently the largest utility in the United States, and as such they have a responsibility to listen to their consumers with regard to where they want their money invested.

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Renewable portfolio standards in North Carolina require that 12.5% of the state’s energy come from renewable energy sources by 2021. Bill Currens highlighted the fact that Duke Energy must comply with this law by throwing renewables into the mix of Duke’s ever-evolving energy portfolio. But he stated somberly that, “in today’s environment its very challenging to run a whole fleet…renewables can be a piece of that”, but not a large piece. He cited problems with battery storage as one of the main reasons the industry would not be adopting more renewables any time soon. Bill says that Duke Energy is “actively exploring battery storage”.

Duke predicts that in 2015 24% of its energy will come from natural gas, 38% from coal, 35% from nuclear, and a measly 3% from renewable sources. When asked why they were not planning on adopting more renewables when students and other customers of Duke Energy were increasingly demanding clean energy sources, he indicated that Duke’s hands are tied. He cited this issue as an industry problem that is slow, and that would take a long time to remedy. Bill says that change can not come with a snap decision, but has to evolve over time. He emphasized the need for a flexibility of energy sources so that Duke would have options when prices on sources went up. The problem is, we don’t have time.

As Carol Hee pointed out last night, the climate is expected to warm by 2 degrees. Scientists say that this may even be too much. We need to take action on this issue now, not wait for it to evolve. Duke needs to be a leader in this push, as the largest utility in the US, they have a mountain of influence to work from.

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The final presenter at the panel was Trillium Asset Management’s Christopher Demetropoulos. Trillium Asset Management works with investors and responsible companies so that they are sure they are investing in responsible, clean energy. They’ve even developed a white paper on how businesses can divest from the fossil fuel industry without hurting their portfolios. He emphasized that divesting from coal would not harm the investments of Universities and other businesses, especially if that divested money were re-invested into the growing renewable energy sector.

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Overall, the panel pointed to some important issues in the relationship between persons wanting sustainability and the energy industry. However, it did not push that industry enough to do something quickly. It, at least represents an open and continuing dialogue between students and administrators at the University.

-Tara Nattress

Want more information about the campaign?
The Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) is a broad network of high school and college-aged youth from across the country working to protect the environment. The SSC is the youth-led chapter of the Sierra Club, the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization. Our mission is simple: “to train, empower, and organize youth to run effective campaigns that result in tangible environmental victories and that develop leaders for the environmental movement.”
Sign our online petition for coal divestment at UNC on Change.org
Like our UNC Sierra Student Coalition page on Facebook
Join our UNC Beyond Coal Facebook group
Follow @sscunc for updates on Twitter
Want to learn more about the national campaign for university endowments to divest from dirty coal? Check out  http://www.wearepowershift.org/campaigns/divestcoal

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