The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.
During my employment over the last decade plus at Mississippi State University, I have seen state appropriations cyclically rise and fall, but remain essentially “flat.” Flat is not really flat (considering inflation) as we all know. A public university has two major operating revenues, if one of them doesn’t increase over time……well you get it. Budgets have been, and always will be in my experience, “tight.” It makes it difficult to gain approval of expenditures that are perceived to not be in the “here and now.” With this knowledge and having worked the duration of my career in my university’s finance division, naturally one of my first thoughts when evaluating a project of any kind is value proposition……does it work financially?
My research to meet this end, both to educate/satisfy myself on the subject as well as convey it to others at MSU was aided substantially by EAB. The team secured benchmark data from multiple institutions by facilitating responses to my specific questions (I had a lot to learn), reviewed MSU’s sustainability action plan, and offered virtual forums on the sustainability in higher ed. EAB’ s Future Higher Ed Leaders program fostered collaboration with colleagues from around the country, and enabled interaction with one partner in particular with whom I shared ideas and formulated my thoughts for the program’s Capstone Project, as well as a future presentation /action plan to potentially make renewable energy production a reality on my campus.
My research, internal and external, revealed to me that:
- My university has a solid plan in place, and has adequately measured progress for 15+ years. We have reduced energy consumption by nearly 35% through education, policy change, and building design improvements.
- However, our necessary physical footprint expansion over the years (~2M sq ft) to accommodate enrollment growth (~20%) has marginalized those efficiencies, and in real terms moved us no closer to carbon neutrality
- Investment in carbon offsets (i.e. renewable production, or carbon credits) are a necessity if we want to meet the goal, as offsets represent fully 45% of MSU’s existing sustainability plan.
- The cost to produce solar energy has declined over the last decade drastically (~80%) making projects not only financially viable but potentially financially beneficial
I plan to put forth the following proposals to University leadership:
- Formation of a sustainability subcommittee that focuses solely on the viability of carbon offsets on MSU’s campus and MSU owned lands starting with placement of a near-term solar project. The committee’ s initial charges would be; (1) examine our electricity producer and provider agreements and renewable energy credit feasibility; (2) examine legislation in our state that positively or negatively affects the ability to produce electricity; (3) monitor our electricity provider’s stated fuel mix initiatives and 20 year goals; and (4) identify external federal funding opportunities for renewable energy projects
- Complete an LED lighting retrofit of an additional 4.2 million square feet of MSU owned buildings through an internal loan mechanism that succeeded a decade ago. Analysis shows an immediate reduction in applicable lighting costs of 60% to 70% with an up front cost of around $4.6 million
- Construct a 1.6 megawatt DC solar array project concurrently with the lighting retrofit, internally financed at an estimated $2.4 million
By taking these initial steps into renewable production, MSU can keep the 2042 commitment a feasible objective, open new research opportunities for our faculty and students, provide service benefits to agricultural stakeholders all across our state, and most importantly further our commitment of excellent environmental stewardship.
See the fellows' blogs from the capstone projects
Amy Capolupo and others participated in the Spring 2021 EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship