NC State students press university to use only renewable energy by 2030

Solar charging station erected at N.C. State

Legacy gift from Park Scholarships Class of 2015 on Centennial campus will bring solar panels down to earth.
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Legacy gift from Park Scholarships Class of 2015 on Centennial campus will bring solar panels down to earth.

Students gathered in N.C. State University’s Court of the Carolinas on Thursday to ask Chancellor Randy Woodson to commit to making the university 100 percent reliant on renewable energy sources by 2030.

Students working with the Climate Reality Project, Environment America, and the Student Public Interest Research Groups gathered 4,200 signatures from students and faculty on a petition to be delivered to Woodson on Friday. The petition is part of a national movement called “100% Committed, 100% Renewable. The Week of Action for Renewable Energy.”

Emery Kiefer, president and founder of the Climate Reality Project’s chapter at N.C. State, said that despite the election of Donald Trump putting federal support for renewable energy initiatives in question, her organization will continue to fight climate change.

“We’re here today to discuss not what our president-elect can do, but what N.C. State can do to fight climate change here on campus,” said Kiefer, a senior studying natural resources. “Post-election, our work is more important and more necessary than ever before.”

Kiefer said Woodson expressed support for the students’ movement in a meeting with student leaders of the Climate Reality Project on Wednesday, but has been hesitant to make promises beyond saying that he would meet with other university officials to discuss the petitioners’ goal.

Woodson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the petition.

The students set an initial goal of 3,000 signatures by the end of the semester, raising the bar set by the last successful sustainability petition in 2013, when 2,000 signatures resulted in a $1.50 increase in student fees to go towards grants for sustainability projects on campus.

Charles Horvath, a senior studying mechanical engineering and the lead researcher for the student branch of the Climate Reality Project, said many of the university’s moves towards renewable energy use are merely cosmetic.

“The solar installations on campus are really more of ‘proof of concepts,’ ” Horvath said. “Really, there hasn’t been much investment beyond proof of concepts.”

Megan Pendell, a senior studying environmental science and a member organizer with the Climate Reality Project, traveled to a South African village over the summer. There, she was able to talk to residents about their struggles for water as droughts plague the region due to climate change.

“I’ve been learning these facts and (when I saw) what’s going on in the world – the statistics in the textbooks were brought to life from them,” Pendell said. “I could see it firsthand.”

In support of the students was Bart Danielsen, a business professor and founder and president of the nonprofit Environmentalists for Education Reform, who urged the university to respect the voices of the students. Danielsen said that as a public university, NCSU has more force behind its actions.

“One of the big problems is that when you talk about pollution, if government entities are polluting they tend to be the worst polluters because there’s no one there to check them,” Danielsen said. “And it takes outside sources like student advocacy to draw attention to those kinds of problems.”

Gavin Stone: 919-829-8937