BY CHASE GORSKI
Just ten years after Dr. Janet Dudley-Eshbach signed the Presidents’ Climate Commitment, Salisbury University has taken a key step towards being carbon neutral.
The Presidents’ Climate Commitment is a promise that almost 700 presidents have signed, pledging to join the fight against global warming. Once President Dudley-Eshbach signed in 2007, the university created the Climate Action Plan which outlined the ways that the university would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the year 2050.
On August 22, the university announced the completion of a new solar parking canopy covering Parking Lot H, moving SU one step closer towards its objective.
The solar panels will collect energy from the sun, in turn generating electricity for campus buildings. Along with collecting solar energy, the parking canopy also includes five electric vehicle charging stations.
According to Wayne Shelton, the Director of Campus Sustainability and Environmental Safety at Salisbury University, the canopy will produce around 765,000 kilowatt hours yearly.
As for a reference point, that amount of energy is enough to power two percent of the electricity consumption of the campus. This is enough to completely power three campus residence halls: Manokin, Pocomoke and Wicomico.
Shelton has been cited as one of the key figures in pushing this project through to fruition.
“All credit should go to [Wayne], he has been pushing for this for years,” Director of the Environmental Studies Department Dr. Michael Lewis said. “He has worked through all of the complicated hurdles of making it happen and overseeing the project.”
The importance of this project goes far beyond collecting solar energy for dorm halls, or charging hybrid cars. The solar canopy represents the university taking an active role in protecting the environment, and shows that the school is working towards the goal of zero carbon emissions.
“The performance is going to help, the fact that it’s going to produce so much electricity for the area is going to go a long way to helping future projects,” Shelton said. “People will say ‘let’s do more [projects] like this.”
While no specific projects are on the horizon, the university and specifically the Department of Sustainability is already bouncing around ideas for the future. According to Shelton, the university is ahead of schedule in terms of their 2050 deadline, and approximately 50 percent of the electricity on-campus comes from renewable sources.
President Dudley-Eshbach was thrilled with the progress the university has made thus far, and sees the solar canopy as a great success.
“This installation is a win-win-win,” President Dudley-Eshbach said. “Using solar energy helps reduce SU’s carbon footprint, the panels provide shade and protection for vehicles and thanks to our partnership with Standard Solar the canopy was built at no cost to the state or university.”
Dudley-Eshbach views this project as a continuation of Salisbury University’s long-standing dedication to sustainability. This is not the first time SU has shown its desire to help the environment with solar projects, with recycling campaigns and removing trays from the dining hall landing them on The Princeton Review’s list of ‘Green Colleges’ for multiple years including 2016.
Aside from the environmental benefits of the installation, there are also numerous educational opportunities that made this project a success for all parties. The educational function of the solar canopy is one of the aspects that greatly interests Dr. Lewis and his students.
In the Teacher Education and Technology Center (TETC) there is a monitor on the first floor that shuffles through different screens outlining the process of converting sunlight to usable energy as well as live energy generation data.
“We teach a course called ‘Introduction to Sustainability’ and one of the things we will talk about in that class is energy,” Dr. Lewis said. “Having a discussion on what is going on with the solar energy as well as discussing how energy generation is tied to larger questions of sustainability.”
Students will also be able to visit the sustainability page on Salisbury University’s website to see a graphic with the updated electricity production data.
As for the educational value outside of the classroom, the completion of this project further demonstrates that SU is committed to leading by example. With climate change taking the national stage in the recent months, Shelton believes it is important for the university to take a stand for the environment.
“It is critical that we model and demonstrate all of these things that we are already teaching in our classrooms, as an educational facility it is our duty to be in the forefront,” Shelton said. “It is important for the population in the future to have hands-on, visual and educational experiences with ‘here is how we become more sustainable, here is how we become greener and here is how we protect our environment.’”
While many in the media spotlight question climate change, and the importance of keeping the environment clean, Salisbury University has chosen a side. Even though these projects are not always economically advantageous, there are reasons to pursue carbon neutrality.
“Being green isn’t less expensive in all respects, in some it can be but it can also be more expensive,” Shelton said. “But it’s the right thing to do.”