UMD Accelerates Emissions-cutting Goal
University Aims for Carbon Neutrality by 2025, All-Electric Fleet by 2035
The University of Maryland is redoubling its efforts to fight climate change, committing to carbon neutrality by 2025 through a mix of infrastructure improvement, electric vehicle purchases and targeted investments in sustainability.
UMD President Darryll J. Pines announced the new goal, which lops a quarter century off a previous plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, during his inauguration speech last week.
“We must continue our academic leadership in research, education and service relative to climate science, sustainability and environmental stewardship of our natural resources. I challenge our faculty to become leaders in developing solutions to one of the grand challenges of our time,” he said during the Earth Day address. “We all must become climate ambassadors.”
Carlo Colella, vice president and chief administrative officer, said UMD is well positioned to take advantage of the growing cost-effectiveness of renewable energy such as solar and wind power over fossil fuels. In addition, through a public-private partnership called the NextGen Energy Program, the university will kick off a plan next year to replace, renew and modernize UMD’s aging energy system, which provides heating, cooling and electric services to campus.
To make the university fleet more efficient, its approximately 1,000 light-duty trucks and vehicles will be replaced with electric models as current vehicles wear out. Light electric and gas vehicles are relatively comparable right now in terms of cost, Colella said, and the administration will continue to search for grants and other financial incentives to make it more feasible to replace costly vehicles like diesel buses.
As the university continues to track emerging technologies that allow for incorporation of low- and zero-emission fuel options, carbon offsets—verified investments that go toward projects to cut greenhouse gases elsewhere to compensate for campus emissions—will for now remain a piece of the puzzle. Offsets are purchased in a competitive bid process, and have included projects such as building wind farms, planting trees and capturing methane (a gas with far more powerful greenhouse effects than carbon dioxide) emitted from landfills.
“We are in a good place, and we got there by improving a lot of efficiencies and purchasing offsets,” Colella said, noting that UMD was already more than halfway to the previous 2050 target. “That’s great progress to build upon.”
The larger picture of what carbon neutrality will cost and when it will be possible at UMD without purchasing offsets will depend heavily on how the nation’s energy and sustainability sectors evolve, Colella said. Another factor is the availability of governmental support for green initiatives following President Joe Biden’s call last week to slash U.S. emissions to half of 2005 levels by 2030. In just a short period of time, Colella said, environmentally friendly power and infrastructure options could move from cost-prohibitive to cost-competitive.
“It’s our obligation to be good stewards,” he said. “We all have to prioritize this.”