Texas colleges lead nation on clean energy

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Emma Pabst

Southwestern, Rice, and Austin College Top Rankings in Renewable Energy, Electric Vehicles

Environment Texas Research and Policy Center

AUSTIN – Southwestern University and Austin College topped the chart in a new national ranking of campuses with the most renewable energy, while Rice University took third place for its percentage of electric campus vehicles.

“These campuses’ dedication to tackling climate change has earned them a well deserved spot among the nation’s top colleges and universities that are leading the shift to clean, renewable energy,” said Luke Metzger, Executive Director of Environment Texas. “Their leadership is a shining example that should inspire higher education institutions across the country to transition to using renewable energy sources.”

College campuses are ideal places to lead the renewable energy transition. Colleges are large energy users, and are uniquely suited to employ microgrids and district heating and cooling systems that expand the potential uses for renewable energy. Schools that seize these opportunities draw the attention of potential students. A 2019 Princeton Review survey of nearly 12,000 college applicants found that 64 percent would factor in schools’ environmental commitments – including commitments to adopt renewable energy – when deciding where to attend.

Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, ranked first in the report for renewable electricity use and 11th for use of electric vehicles. In the late 2000s, realizing the immense potential of renewable energy in the state, students at Southwestern lobbied the university administration to source its electricity with wind power. In January 2010, the university agreed and began purchasing renewable energy credits equivalent to 100 percent of its electricity use from wind energy projects.

“As with so many issues in our world, we find innovative solutions through wisdom, creativity, and balance,” said Dr. Edward Burger, President of Texas’ Southwestern University, which took first place in the U.S. in the report’s renewable energy ranking. “Southwestern has found a way to balance its desire to keep student costs as low as possible with its desire to be good stewards of our planet through renewable energy opportunities on our campus.”

“Austin College takes environmental stewardship seriously,” said President Steven P. O’Day of Austin College, which ranked second in the nation for total renewable energy use. “We look forward to building on a twenty-year track record of advances in stewardship, and capturing the cost savings those improvements generate. It is our clear intention that Austin College continues to be a leader in the campus sustainability movement and we are pleased to be recognized by the Campus Energy Rankings Report. In 2008, Austin College committed to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (now the Second Nature Carbon Commitment), a challenge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We have since reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by some 40% as a result of improving energy efficiency and shifting to wind-generated electricity. In addition to reducing our emissions, those energy efficiency improvements save us some $400,000 per year, more than 20 times the additional cost of wind power.”  

The new report by Environment America Research and Policy Center, America’s Top Colleges for Renewable Energy: Who’s Leading the Transition to 100% Renewable Energy on Campus?, ranks colleges in categories including total use of renewable electricity, renewable electricity on-campus, and electric vehicles.

Other Texas colleges cited in the report include:

  • UT Austin ranked 63rd for on-campus use of renewable energy, 124th for total renewable energy, and 59th for use of electric vehicles

  • Rice University ranked 60th for on-campus use of renewables, 46th for total use of renewables, and 3rd for use of electric vehicles

  • Texas Tech ranked 29th for on-campus use of renewable energy, 94th for total use and 138th for use of electric vehicles

  • UT Rio Grande Valley ranked 47th for on-campus use of renewable energy, 112th for total use, and 60th for use of electric vehicles

  • UT Dallas ranked 39th for use of electric vehicles.

“The colleges and universities leading the rankings are at the top of the class when it comes to tackling climate change and transitioning to clean, renewable energy sources,” said Bronte Payne, Environment America’s 100% Renewable Campuses Campaign director. “Future and current students care deeply about the role higher education is playing in the fight against climate change. With this report, they now have valuable data regarding which colleges and universities are leading the charge on renewable energy future.”

This report comes amid a wave of student-driven action at University of Texas campuses this year.

This week leaders of 16 student groups at UT Austin wrote President Greg Fenves and 50 faculty and 10 student groups at UTSA wrote President Taylor Eighmy urging the campuses to go 100% renewable.

“Students will be the driving force behind future commitments to clean, renewable energy that will lead us to a fossil fuel-free economy,” said Payne.