UMN optimistic about reaching 2020 energy goals

In 2011, the University committed to cutting carbon emissions in half by 2020.

Wesley Hortenbach

Officials at the University of Minnesota hope new steps toward sustainability will help the school meet carbon emissions goals.

In 2011, the University pledged to cut 50 percent of its carbon emissions by 2020. The institution has reduced carbon emissions by 23 percent, but officials are optimistic that improvements like the use of more solar panels and LED light bulbs will keep the institution on track.

Shane Stennes, director of sustainability, said it may seem like the school is behind on its sustainability commitments, but progress toward these goals isn’t linear. As the school implements more programs and upgrades, carbon emissions will be reduced significantly this year, he said.

“There are three priorities that we have to balance at the U, and that’s being reliable, cost effective and sustainable,” said Stennes, who coordinates the school’s carbon emissions reductions.

This year, more LED light bulbs and solar panels will be installed on campus, which should reduce emissions, Stennes said. Plus, 2018 marks the first year the University will use energy from community solar garden subscriptions — a collection of solar panels connected to the energy grid — as part of a 25-year plan approved last summer, he said.

And the University’s new main power plant — which opened last November — will reduce the school’s carbon footprint by about 10 percent, Stennes said.

While many people think renewable energy options are expensive, they’re generally more cost-effective than traditional energy sources in the long run, said Jerome Malmquist, director of energy management.

Last August, the University partnered with the EPA’s Green Power Partnership, a program that requires its 1,500 partner organizations to commit to using green power. This is a sign of the University’s commitment to its energy goals, Stennes said.

The University also pledges to be completely carbon-free by 2050, a goal that officials are optimistic the school will reach.