Senators work toward solar panels to reduce carbon footprint

November 13, 2015

Student Union Senators Matt Smetana ’17 and David Herbstritt ’17 are working tirelessly to implement solar panels on campus and specifically, on top of Admissions. The senators hope to get the project moving before the winter of 2016, as they look to present their idea to the Interim President Lisa Lynch this January.

Smetana, a passionate environmental activist on campus, claims that “renewable energy always pays for itself in the end.” He shared that solar panels would greatly reduce our carbon footprint as well as the University’s electricity bill. Herbstritt and Smetana are in the process of researching the implementation of solar panels and creating a formal proposal and robust plan by the end of the semester. Both senators know that solar panels would not only visibly help Brandeis stand out as a more environmentally friendly campus, but also would reap hundreds of thousands of dollars in electricity savings.

Although Brandeis hosts a large number of student climate justice activists, there is still much room to improve on its carbon footprint. In fact, according to Smetana’s research, Brandeis uses 26 percent more energy than other like private research institutions. Smetana, a Brandeis Senate Sustainability Committee chair, admitted that in a 2009 plan to cut energy emissions 15 percent by 2015, six years later, energy emissions actually increased by 1 percent.

“In installing solar panels, we would save Brandeis a lot of money,” he said. Just take Brandeis’ six-day “Turn it Off” initiative during which students were asked to be accountable for their energy emissions in dollars. During those six days, energy emissions were cut by 26-28 percent, and the university saved $250,000.

In terms of where they will hope to carry out this solar panel project, Herbstritt and Smetana favor the Admissions building as a good place to start. Herbstritt shared that not only is Admissions a new and visible building that can bear the weight of large solar panels, but it also is practical in that it receives plenty of sunlight and has a natural tilt. In addition, due to its optimal location on campus, the Admissions building has a greater likelihood of getting passed by students, visitors and prospective students, making the project favorable on the Admissions end as well.

In addition to reaping large cost cuts and cutting the university carbon footprint, Herbstritt admits that solar panels would make Brandeis only the sixth school in the state to implement solar panel technology on campus. According to his research, only MIT, Harvard, Northeastern, UMass Boston and Tufts host solar panel installations on their campuses. “Although it would have been nice to be the first school in Massachusetts to install solar paneling, I wouldn’t mind us being the sixth school,” Herbstritt joked.

Although the entire cost of the project is still unknown, the panels will bring in sizable tax credits, according to Herbstritt. In fact, a 30-percent tax credit will be offered if the installment process has begun before or by Dec. 31, 2016. In addition, Herbstritt shared that Union money, state grants and company discounts would greatly contribute in making the project virtually free for Brandeis.

Although the senators are working hard on initiating the project, both confess that Jim Gray, vice president for operations at Brandeis, has the final say in the implementation of solar panels. According to both senators, there is good news in that many of the administrators involved with the project are very much on board with environmental justice. In terms of facing obstacles in the project, Herbstritt stated that they must come up with a solution in dealing with heavy snowfall in the winter months. Herbstritt suggested that he and his team would come up with solutions to have the snow slide off the roof through strategic engineering or develop a system for covering the panels during the snowy weeks.

“I hope students recognize the hard work we are putting into this and get on board. It’s really important to make our institution commit to [being] social[ly] just, for environmental justice is social justice,” Smetana conveys. Both senators are adamant and enthusiastic in carrying out their solar panel project and look to finalize the plan by late February and get the process rolling for students to enjoy the benefits before 2016 comes to a close.

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