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The “economic sense” of Princeton’s $30 million solar fields

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Just south of Lake Carnegie, 27 acres of photovoltaic panels collect and convert enough solar energy to account for about 6% of Princeton University’s energy usage every year. These panels cost about $30 million to install in 2012. According to Gina Talt, a Campus as Lab fellow at Princeton’s Office of Sustainability, the university contracted the fields in 2011, because solar energy started to make “good economic sense” around that time.

About $10 million of the project was paid for by a federal grant, made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The university is currently selling Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) to pay for the rest of the project. SRECs, which represent one Megawatt-Hour of renewably produced energy, are comparable to stocks, in that both are theoretical goods: buyers in the SREC marketplace purchase the renewable energy savings represented by each certificate, not the energy itself.

SRECs are valuable because some states mandate that electricity supply companies produce a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources. New Jersey, for example, requires that 20% of energy sales come from renewable sources by 2020. As a result, utilities that are lagging behind New Jersey’s requirements can buy SRECs from Princeton to make up for the difference in their own emissions savings.

At the beginning of April, SRECs in New Jersey were selling at about $220 each, a relative low point for the state. The university expects to stop selling SRECs in 2019 or 2020.

Caroline Savage, a Campus as Lab manager at the Office of Sustainability, said that the university saves more on carbon emissions through energy efficiency upgrades than the production of solar energy. According to Savage, solar fields save about 3,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year, whereas upgrading existing energy facilities to be more efficient saves about 5,000 tons of emissions per year.

“Solar is definitely fantastic, but the most sustainable unit of energy is the one you don’t consume,” Savage said.

When the university stops selling its SRECs, it will start counting emissions savings towards its own goal to reduce campus emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.


Disclaimer: Somi Jun is a Communications Assistant for the Office of Sustainability.

ListServ Discourse: a New Platform?

We’ve all seen it (and muted it): the dreaded discourse chain of 30+ emails over the residential college ListServs.

If Princeton students are good at anything, it’s starting arguments in the strangest of places–dining halls, bathrooms, Terrace at two in the morning, even In light of an email advertising the Anscombe Society’s talk on redefining “traditional marriage” values, the WilsonWire ListServ exploded with twenty-nine responses, ranging from clips of American Dad to quotations of the University’s statement on inclusion. The Forbes and Whitman ListServs had similar responses.

“I was not expecting such a long back-and-forth when I sent the email,” said Thomas Clark ‘18, a member of the Anscombe Society. “I know this is a controversial topic but ListServs are also used to advertise many other controversial events.”

Responders threw around words like “hypocrisy” and “prejudice,” arguing back and forth about the nature of the talk with guest Ryan T. Anderson. Multiple responses against the talk linked to the GLAAD website, where a list of Anderson’s problematic statements on the LGBT community were compiled.

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“I notice that there are a lot of fliers that are for events on campus that really bother me, but I don’t do anything about them,” said David Herrera ‘17, who responded with the statement on inclusion. This, he said, is the “price” of living with those who have different viewpoints.

Clark noted that anybody who attended the talk with Ryan Anderson would have seen how “civil and respectful the entire event was,” adding that Princeton students have the ability to engage with a variety of viewpoints in an environment that encourages freedom of expression.

“A few people sent private messages to me in reference to the email I sent, which I appreciated,” Clark said. “What I did not appreciate was the use of ListServs for mere snark without actually engaging intellectually with the issue.”

The ListServ discourse was indeed snarky, whether the response was outraged or as simply put as “take this sh*t back to Facebook.”

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“I admittedly think ListServs are a bad forum for discussion,” said Mitchell Bast ‘20, who responded to the WilsonWire email. “People don’t tend to take the discussion seriously, nor do they like being spammed with emails.”

The question remains why these backlashes never tend to be the result of liberal-leaning talks or events.

“I don’t think that the people who respond to ListServ emails are representative of the student body as a whole, and I think it’s important to have alternative perspectives thrown in as well,” said Richard Chang ‘17, who responded to the Forbes Innformer in defense of the talk. He added that it’s important to maintain a space for those with moderate or conservative opinions.

“The discussion likely won’t change anyone’s mind, but having that sort of public conversation provides for a wider range of discussion,” said Micah Herskind ‘19, who responded to the Forbes Innformer email with an offer of “progressive christian love.”