UA partners with TEP to eliminate a third of greenhouse gas emissions

Last month, the University of Arizona announced the continuation of its partnership with Tucson Electric Power (TEP) to introduce systems that will reduce the university’s carbon footprint. 

Pending approval by the Arizona Corporation Commission, the University of Arizona will obtain its grid-generated electricity from two of TEP’s renewable energy projects. The first, a wind farm located in New Mexico, will be in service by the end of 2020; the second is a solar array that hosts roughly 314,000 solar panels and an advanced storage system, which will also be in service by the end of 2020.

The project is designed to offset its scope two emissions – greenhouse gases generated from electric grids – which will eliminate roughly a third of the greenhouse gas emissions that the university produces. The UA has pledged to operate on 100 percent clean energy by 2040, and this project is a substantial step to attain that goal.

“It’s important to the university largely because we have committed to carbon neutrality by 2040,” said UA Office of Sustainability director Trevor Ledbetter. “We signed onto the president’s climate change commitment through an organization called Second Nature, which committed us to carbon neutrality and climate resiliency by 2050, and then we moved up that goal to 2040 with a strategic plan. From that perspective, this goes a long way towards that goal.”

UA is also part of the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3), a group of roughly 20 member universities which are committed to minimizing emissions and researching new methods to create a more sustainable environment.

“We’re really just starting to put action towards where our values are,” Ledbetter continues. “That being said, we are in the middle of a climate crisis, and as an institution, we have a responsibility to our students from our educational perspective and to our community beyond, to take action where we can to mitigate carbon emissions as quickly as we can.”

Looking forward, the University of Arizona is working with various departments to completely eliminate emissions by 2040. Scope one and scope three emissions comprise the remaining two-thirds of the university’s emissions; that is, emissions stemming directly from day-to-day campus operations and emissions from indirect sources, such as employee and student travel. 

The Office of Sustainability is collaborating with relevant units on campus to develop a strategic plan moving forward.

“Scopes one and three deal with carbon offsets, so in those spaces, the best course of action is reduction,” Ledbetter explains. “So, looking forward, from my perspective, the quickest and easiest is to shift our co-generational turbines toward retirement and look towards a fully renewable electric purchase from TEP. So, we would essentially be shifting our energy needs from co-generational turbines on campus to renewable resources on the grid.” 

Scopes one and three are certainly harder to tackle than scope two, Ledbetter admits, but the university is taking the proper steps to address those challenges.  

TEP has been a major proponent of clean energy in the state, implementing new projects which reduce the utility’s carbon footprint. TEP expects to provide more than 28 percent of its power from renewable resources in 2021, which nearly doubles the 2025 goal for the state of Arizona.

“We made a commitment to become a more sustainable campus, and now we have in place a system that will make a significant impact in just two years,” University of Arizona President Robert Robbins said in a statement. “I believe it is up to higher education institutions to lead the way on clean energy solutions. This university is already a leader in environmental and sustainability research, and we found a partner in TEP that shares our commitment to make effectual change. We have a forward-looking team to make these changes a rapid reality.”

Ben Norman

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