GREEN: U.Va. should serve as role model for Charlottesville energy policy

Charlottesville should make a commitment to city-wide carbon neutrality by 2050

Since its inception in 1819, the University has shaped the city of Charlottesville. It has long served as an incubator for new, forward-looking policies and perspectives. Unsurprisingly, students, alumni and faculty have initiated many of the city’s progressive policies and attitudes. A prime example is Charlottesville’s current mayor, Michael Signer, who is a graduate from the University’s law school and has taught classes at Batten. As mayor, Signer has implemented an advisory council on innovation and technology. Under his tenure, Charlottesville was ranked fourth in the U.S. for entrepreneurship. With this in mind, it is only fitting that the University should serve as the role model for the city’s energy policy.

In 2011, the Board of Visitors approved the University’s first ever sustainability plan. The plan set goals for the University to reduce water use, curb carbon footprints and lower waste. The University’s sustainability plan received tremendous support and guidance from faculty and students. The plan’s baseline goal is a 25 percent reduction in emissions by 2025 and has already lowered its greenhouse gas emissions to below its 2009 level, despite substantial growth. Just last week, Sun Tribe Solar, a Charlottesville-based solar provider, finished installing the University’s largest solar investment to date on top of Clemons Library. While the University has striven to curb its environmental footprint, the City of Charlottesville has lagged behind. According to the latest available City of Charlottesville Emissions Report, Charlottesville is committed to reduce its carbon emissions by 10 percent by 2035, which is unambitious compared to many cities. At the heart of the issue is Virginia’s Voluntary Renewable Energy Standard, which is only a meager 15 percent by 2025.

With the expertise and vision of the University behind it, Charlottesville should make a commitment to city-wide carbon neutrality by 2050. Similarly sized cities, such as Burlington, Vt., have already proved that carbon neutrality is currently feasible, so we can only imagine what could be accomplished in the next 30 years. In addition to reducing emissions, the commitment would prompt a fundamental change in how the city approaches new development and energy sourcing. Moreover, the goal’s long horizon would allow the city to tap into the University’s renowned academic resources, including advice from the Darden school, which has become a leader in advising businesses to adopt more environmentally conscious practices. Furthermore, the Batten school could provide expertise in local policymaking and social entrepreneurship.

The move only makes sense for a city which is home to Apex, Sun Tribe Solar and Coronal, some of the largest and most innovative clean energy providers in the country. As national climate policy stalls, more people are calling for action at the local and state level. There is an opportunity for Charlottesville to transform itself into a mecca for sustainability in the Southeast. The newfound attention brought by this initiative would encourage clean energy investment and attract qualified professionals, further spurring economic development.

This transformation would only accentuate the city’s existing industries, culture and values. Pursuing clean energy sources results in energy independence, so this emissions goal would further build upon Charlottesville’s current culture of locally owned business and locally sourced products. The commitment also connects to the University, which is constantly looking towards the future (you only have to see and hear the never-ending construction on Grounds to know that). It is clear that Charlottesville has the foundation for a green future in place. It just needs to realize its potential and capitalize on the opportunity. As the all too familiar Mr. Jefferson once said, “nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.” Let’s make it happen, Charlottesville.

James Green is an undergraduate student at the Batten school. 

related stories