Is Rutgers getting left behind in climate action?
The short answer – yes. The longer answer - yes, very badly.
We were years behind other prominent universities in establishing a climate task force, we remain without an office of sustainability (and thus without administrative and financial power to enforce the eventual climate action plan), we have upgraded our cogeneration plant (which, while it increases efficiency and decreases emissions from the plant, we have also locked ourselves into fossil fuels for the next FEW DECADES).
The eventuality of shutting down the cogeneration plant is based on (like everything else) money. The rate at which we buy electricity (which in NJ is produced cleaner than our own production) is currently more expensive than making our own. And this is unlikely to change until the market changes.
But good news – the market is changing. Just a few days ago, PSEG announced that it will be retiring (not yet with a timeline) all fossil fuel power plants. BP oil announced it will divest 40% of its production and invest in renewables.
That’s right – an oil company is divesting from oil, and Rutgers still is investing millions of dollars into fossil fuels. It’s promising that Rutgers released a message avowing to divest from fossil fuels (while refusing to divest from the prison industrial complex and companies supporting the Israeli apartheid) but again shows that we are behind the times.
The fight for divestment has been a hard fought battle by “radical” students for decades, but now that fossil fuel and power generation companies are acting on the financial risk posed by fossil fuel reliance (by shutting down fossil fuel plants) is divestment not so radical. And only now is Rutgers approaching divestment seriously.
We’ve been late to the bandwagon on every step we’ve taken (are we Revolutionary or RevoLATEtionary) and are being left behind by prestigious universities, utilities companies, and our own state.
As the state university of New Jersey, we should be at least meeting and preferably reaching beyond the state energy master plan to drive radical change. We need to start planning for the eventuality of shutting down our natural gas powered cogeneration plants – and anticipating shutting them down before it’s natural lifetime. The only question that remains is what energy source can replace it??
Solar? Wind? Nuclear?
Do we purchase more electricity through renewable power purchasing agreements and get renewable energy credits?
Do we promote the construction of PSEG’s 3rd nuclear plant in Jersey to bump the carbon free electricity in the state from 40% to 60%(approximately)??
Do we use the dining hall food waste to create biogas that we can stick into the cogen plant instead of natural gas?
I don’t know. All I know is the more time we take answering these questions, the worse position we will be in, as institutions far ahead of us in the planning process take bold steps they have been preparing for over the last half decade or so. Time is of the essence, participation in research is necessary and learning from the actions of other universities and institutions is critical.