Higher Education and Energy: Opportunities for National Leadership

June 7, 2012

By Michele Madia, Director, Sustainability Finance & Strategy, Second Nature

(This article appears in the June, 2012 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

The National Association of College & University Business Officers (NACUBO), Second Nature and the ACUPCC will release a policy brief report at the ACUPCC Climate Leadership Summit that explores how the federal government can develop and enhance energy efficiency and renewable energy incentives and investments specific to the nonprofit higher education sector.

The higher education sector is well positioned to lead the nation in implementing deep energy efficiency projects and renewable energy technologies. Colleges and universities own and manage thousands of buildings, heat and cool millions of square feet of space, and in many instances, operate their own thermal and electric power generation facilities. According to the latest reports from ACUPCC schools, 104 institutions have secured $195.7 million in outside funding to support their commitment to eliminate their operational greenhouse gas emissions and 158 institutions have implemented energy efficiency and renewable energy projects that have generated savings of $104 million. However, for many colleges and universities financing such projects can be challenging because current government incentives are most often designed for business and industry and not for the tax-exempt sector.

4 kW Solar Array at Appalachian State University. Photo courtesy of Marie Freeman/Appalachian State University

Since the launch of the ACUPCC in 2007, the network has identified financing as a key focus area in enabling signatories, the higher education sector as a whole, and society more broadly, in creating a low-carbon economy.  In 2009, NACUBO in collaboration with Second Nature published “Financing Sustainability on Campus” — a resource detailing a range of financing strategies and options available to campuses. In 2011, the ACUPCC Financing Committee was formed to identify challenges and opportunities related to financing and prioritize efforts of the ACUPCC network in removing financial barriers to implementing sustainability projects on campuses.

In January and February, NACUBO met with the staff of key Members of the House of Representatives and Senate as well as Congressional committees with jurisdiction over energy and appropriations. The goals of the informal meetings were to educate the Congressional staff members about the ACUPCC and the unique needs of the higher education sector, and to gauge their receptivity to suggested policy proposals. While Congressional staff members expressed support for the effort and ideas, there were reminders to be cognizant that in the current political and economic climate, efforts should be focused on raising visibility and awareness of the issues with the goal of taking substantive action in the 113th Congress.

At the same time, NACUBO was in conversations with many individual campuses, higher education associations, NGOs, and other key stakeholders interested in advancing this topic. Based on these conversations, in March, NACUBO’sSustainability Advisory Panel identified specific policy solutions that will enable nonprofit higher education institutions of all sizes and types to reduce energy consumption, increase efficiencies, avoid risks and improve their long-term financial sustainability. The following recommendations have been identified and will be detailed in the policy brief to be released at the Climate Leadership Summit.

  • Allow colleges and universities to use tax exempt and revenue bond financing to pre-pay power purchase agreements.
  • Develop new energy efficiency and renewable energy loan options open to institutions of higher education, including establishing a federal loan guarantee program and developing a federal revolving loan fund for energy efficiency initiatives.
  • Establish, alter, and fund federal grant programs including Section 471 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
  • Allow long-term charitable deductions and tax credits for biomass and bio-methane contributions.
  • Extend eligibility of Clean and Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs).

ACUPCC Climate Leadership Summit participants will have an opportunity to continue the discussion on how the ACUPCC network can encourage the federal government to help colleges and universities raise the bar and provide national leadership on deep energy efficiency and large-scale renewable energy deployment and adoption. Moving forward, Second Nature, the ACUPCC and NACUBO will develop a long-term advocacy strategy for necessary federal policy changes that will have the largest impact for nonprofit higher education sector.

To stay engaged or to join in the conversation, please contact Michele Madia(mmadia@secondnature.org), Director, Sustainability Finance and Strategy, Second Nature.

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