Appalachian Energy Summit to help chart strategic path for sustainable energy

Leaders from the University of North Carolina system and several private universities are meeting this week at Appalachian State University to work toward carbon neutrality by 2050 and reduce the UNC system's $226 million energy bill.

The three-day Appalachian Energy Summit, hosted by Appalachian in partnership with Rocky Mountain Institute, convenes representatives from all 17 campuses in the UNC system, including the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, plus five private colleges: Catawba College, Davidson College, Duke University, Warren Wilson College and Wake Forest University.

The inaugural event is designed to aid in the creation of actionable energy plans that benefit students, the environment and the local economy.

According to the North Carolina State Energy Office, the UNC system alone spends $226 million per year on energy, or approximately $1,000 per student per year. At current levels, a 25-year reduction in energy usage would yield a 20-year savings in excess of $1 billion.

"Today's college-bound students want to know about campus sustainability plans, the answer to which could be a deciding factor for a growing number of applicants," said RMI Senior Consultant Michael Kinsley, author of RMI's "Accelerating Campus Climate Initiatives."

As college campuses across the country are raising tuitions in a tough economy, the summit has implications beyond North Carolina. With 677 college and university signatories to the President's Climate Commitment, more campuses are looking to lower operating costs. RMI's recently published book "Reinventing Fire" provides a long-term vision and strategies to dramatically cut energy use by retrofitting buildings, addressing the fuel in fleets, and exploring on-site renewable generation that can be readily adaptable to a complex campus ecosystem.

"If college campuses can champion the efficient use and renewable supply of energy," Kinsley said, "they stand to not only gain a competitive edge but can serve as a living lab for cities and regions trying to implement similar strategies at a larger scale."

The summit launches a multi-year process in which participating campuses will collaborate to set goals, share best practices, and educate leadership on integrated design and the latest technologies. Ultimately, the UNC campuses are looking to cut the university's average annual energy costs by 50 percent while promoting environmental leadership through their academic programs.

"Hosting this University of North Carolina system-wide transformational initiative at Appalachian State University is a true honor," said Chancellor Kenneth E. Peacock.

"The collaborative nature of the summit reinforces the commitment Appalachian and our sister institutions have to sustainable practices and programs. In light of our campus' commitment to sustainability, including receiving the prestigious U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 People's Choice Award and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education's STARS Gold rating for excellence in sustainable practices in our curriculum, operations, and administration, I am proud for Appalachian to welcome RMI CEO and Physicist Amory Lovins and his colleagues as well as all of the other distinguished speakers."