Archive for December, 2015

NAU’s Renewable Energy Certificates Explained


NAU is increasing its purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) from 13% to 15% to help move towards climate neutrality and support the renewable energy industry. NAU will be working with 3Degrees to provide us the Certificates from a wind farm in Idaho. Jacob Dottle, Environmental Caucus communication aid, interviews Ellen Vaughan, NAU manager of sustainability, to better understand NAU’s purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs).

Jacob: So what are RECs?

Ellen: Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) were created to track renewable energy generation because, no matter how Green Power is produced, once an electron from a renewable facility is delivered to a power grid, that electron is indistinguishable from an electron generated at a fossil fuel plant. RECs represent the environmental attributes associated with the production of one megawatt-hour (MWh) of renewable energy. There are two things happening when a wind, or solar, or other renewable energy installation produces electricity. First, electrons supplied from an installation are sent out over distribution lines to the nearest demand for that energy, like a town or city. These electrons, which again are indistinguishable from other electrons, are sold as grid-average electricity. Second, the Renewable Energy Certificate for one MWh of this green power has the ability to be sold on a national market. The RECs are a legal instrument, and essentially represent the ownership claim to the environmental benefits associated with the generation of renewable energy, which we have no way to convey through the physical electric gird.

Jacob: What does that do?

Ellen: Have you taken an Economics 101 class yet?

Jacob: I have, but a long time ago.

Ellen: That’s ok. Let’s see if you got one of the very basics. What happens when demand for a product starts to rise?

Jacob: The company can charge more money and they can make more money.

Ellen: Yes. Almost all of the time. What happens when other companies see that a product is in demand?

Jacob: They want to get in on it. They start making that product.

Ellen: Exactly, you remember what’s important from Economics 101! Increased demand leads to increased supply. This is exactly what the world needs, an increased supply of renewable energy. REC’s are a market signal to renewable energy developers and investors that there’s this additional source of income attached to renewable energy that will make their development or investment more competitive with fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.

Environmentalists and humanitarians have been fighting for a policy that would act like this at the national level for decades. We know fossil fuels have billions of dollars’ worth of environmental and health related negative externalities so a simple solution would be to tax fossil fuels and use that money to subsidize clean renewable energy. Here at NAU, we recognize our electricity use has an unaccounted for societal cost associated with it so we’re offsetting 15% of our electrical consumption with RECs and remaining the Big Sky Conference Champion in EPA’S College & University Green Power Challenge.

Jacob: So that’s why NAU buy RECs?

Ellen: Definitely. It’s a great thing to do. NAU’s made a commitment to reach climate neutrality and this significantly helps reduce our emissions.

Jacob: So we’re offsetting our emissions, does this have anything to do with those projects that plant trees?

Ellen: No. Not at all. The key words in Renewable Energy Certificates are renewable energy. We are only supporting renewable energy that can be completely verifiable. There is a national standard for verifying RECs that’s called “Green-e Energy” certification. We made sure our RECs were certified, in our national grid, and produced from a specific, new renewable energy source. Specifically, we’re getting our RECs from a 100% wind farm called Meadow Creek in Bonneville, Idaho.

Jacob: Sounds good, why don’t we offset all our emissions with RECs?

Ellen: Well the one bummer about RECs is they don’t have any financial return on investment for the university. Although they provide a lot of positives to the renewable energy industry and climate change, I think it’d be everyone’s preference to invest in energy efficiencies and renewable energies on campus that provide us a financial return. Unfortunately, large scale, on campus projects take a large amount of upfront money that we don’t have right now. RECs are the perfect option for being able to move towards our goals economically.

Jacob: Thanks so much, I’m glad we’re doing it!

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Career Development and Environmental Caucus Preparing for Careers With Impact

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The third annual Careers With Impact event will occur on Tuesday, April 19th, 2016 and Career Development and the Environmental Caucus have been hard at work preparing for this year’s event. Here at NAU, we see sustainability as an interdisciplinary challenge that extends beyond the key environmental issues of our age, such as climate change, and into the realm of social and economic justice. Careers With Impact is meant to help students connect to careers in sustainability. Many students know what kinds of impacts they want to make, but they don’t know how to go about finding work that will allow them to do so after graduation. Some students might not know which direction they want to go, but with the help of professionals in these positions, we intend to increase awareness of sustainable jobs by introducing students to positions that have sustainable implications, but may not necessarily say ‘sustainability’ in the title. Careers With Impact is an event that is meant to bring students together with professionals from social, economic, and environmental backgrounds or experiences.

This year Career Development and the Environmental Caucus are expecting to see an increase in student participation and attendance and a significant increase in professionals attending. Students will be given the chance to ask these professionals questions about their career, to get advice for student’s own careers, and to network with professionals. If you know of a professional in the field who would want to participate, please contact

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President’s Cabinet Requests Reusable Water Bottles, Green NAU Delivers


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On Monday, November 30th, reusable water bottles were hand delivered to the President’s Cabinet by Caitlyn Burford (Chair, Environmental Caucus), Brandon VanBibber (Student: Co-chair of Green Jacks), and Jessica Lazor (Student: Chair of Green Fund). The President’s office made an inquiry to the Environmental Caucus about a donation of reusable water bottles for the Babbitt Admin conference room, specifically for the President’s Cabinet, which is comprised of about 45 people. By gaining reusable water bottles, they could eliminate all plastic water bottles from their conference room. The Environmental Caucus purchased these bottles from a local producer in Arizona who produces the bottles right here in the US. As the reusable containers were being distributed to the President’s Cabinet, President Cheng said her recent visit to the Dominican Republic with the women’s basketball team reinforced the importance of their availability. Cheng continued by saying, “we saw plastic bottles all over the streets and on the beaches. It was a stark reminder that these things don’t go away. NAU is a leader in sustainability efforts, and each of us sets the example by making responsible choices that reflect our understanding of the wider impact on the world.”

By providing reusable water bottles, which can be refilled using the water refill station in Babbitt Admin, the Environmental Caucus was able to assist the President’s Cabinet in eliminating plastic water bottles from the conference room completely. NAU is a leader in sustainability and steps like these will keep us at the forefront of sustainable efforts. “It was a powerful feeling to hear the president of our University talk about how these plastic bottles don’t go away and how important it is for us to make an effort to battle these negative influences,” said Brandon VanBibber of the Green Jacks. “By having President Cheng initiate this change, she is further contributing to NAU’s Culture of Sustainability, and that’s important,” said Jessica Lazor of the Green Fund, “this is exactly what we need.”

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