Ithaca College has made a leap forward in announcing a solar power project that would meet 10 percent of its electricity needs. But let’s not get carried away or blinded by optimism.
Without a doubt, this is exciting news. By summer, the college will complete its solar array of 9,000 panels, which will then generate enough power to run 500 average-sized homes and offset the carbon dioxide emissions of 187 cars in its first year, estimates show. President Tom Rochon called this step a “significant milestone.”
It certainly is. Sustainability has been lagging behind on the college’s agenda for several years. Other than naming new people to positions and designating responsibilities within energy management and sustainability, this is the first concrete action taken to address goals within the college’s Climate Action Plan since its inception.
While acknowledging this achievement, it is important to note that the college cannot nearly be done with its work on sustainability. The effects of this solar panel project hardly make a dent in the goals outlined in the Climate Action Plan, which the Ithaca College Board of Trustees approved in 2009. One of those goals was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by the year 2015 from baseline levels in 2007. As The Ithacan reported last spring, this goal was not met. In fact, emissions actually increased. Now, the solar panels are projected to decrease emissions only by 3 percent from 2007, said Gerald Hector, vice president for finance and administration.
What’s more, it seems college administrators still are not prioritizing or paying close attention to these goals. Hector, in the announcement, said this 3 percent reduction in emissions would complete one of the objectives in the Climate Action Plan. The objective he probably meant to refer to is the 25 percent reduction. The only mention of a 3 percent reduction in the plan is in electrical appliance consumption, and that is if the college follows through with increasing energy efficiency of its appliances.
The campus community should recognize the significance of this deal as a tangible and symbolic move forward but be wary that there is still much more work to be done. The progress has only just begun.