Bulletin News

College Commits to Renewable Electricity


This fall, SUNY Cortland will become the first institution in the 64-campus SUNY system to operate all of its facilities - classrooms, residence halls, dining areas, sports facilities … everything - using 100 percent renewable electrical energy.

More than 700 new solar panels will be installed on campus as part of the commitment, and the College will purchase 16 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy credits a year. Those efforts build on a long list of sustainability initiatives undertaken by SUNY Cortland and will support its new master’s program in sustainable energy systems.

“As one of the original signers of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, SUNY Cortland’s goal has been to create one of the greenest campuses in the nation,” College President Erik J. Bitterbaum said. “By taking this step, we’re showing that we’re willing to do more than just talk about energy sustainability.”

It’s part of a broader effort by SUNY to use the resources of its campus network to encourage clean energy innovation and cost-effective and sustainable energy use.

 SUNY Cortland’s commitment to energy sustainability is a demonstration of how SUNY is helping to foster a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable future for New York state," said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. "Congratulations to President Bitterbaum and the faculty, staff and students at SUNY Cortland who have made this outstanding achievement possible. This is a terrific example of SUNY meeting its strategic planning goal of contributing to an energy-smart New York."

 Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently approved an ambitious, $3 million solar energy project for SUNY Cortland as part of a unique initiative designed to increase the number of solar installations throughout New York.  The College is one of 79 project sites that will benefit from the latest round of awards by NY-Sun, a solar energy program run by the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority.  

 Through the program, SolarCity, a national clean-energy services company, will build three installations with a combined total of about 700 photovoltaic panels on campus. The installations will be on the roof of the Park Center Alumni Arena, at ground level on a grassy area near the old SUNY Cortland entrance off Route 281 and on the roof of the new Student Life Center, currently under construction.

 When the installations are completed next year, the College will be able to pull about 6 percent of its energy needs directly from the sun.

 “This represents an important step in SUNY Cortland’s ongoing effort to shrink its carbon footprint and operate in an environmentally sustainable way,” Bitterbaum said.  “Over the years, we have dramatically reduced the amount of greenhouse gas we generate. These new solar panels will allow us to move even closer to our goal of carbon neutrality.”

 In September, the College will take another big step toward that goal by buying electricity only from renewable sources like wind, solar or water to meet its remaining power needs.

 “If we say that we believe global warming is a real concern, and the technology is available today to help prevent it, then even if you have to spend a little more, you do what needs to be done,” said Timothy Slack, SUNY Cortland’s physical plant director. “You have to walk the talk.”

 Currently, about a third of the electricity provided by National Grid to the campus comes from renewable sources, Slack said. Since the initial costs for establishing alternative power sources like windmills or hydroelectric plants are high compared with existing fossil-fuel sources, a system of credits has been developed to allow power customers to pay more to encourage the establishment and use of renewable energy.

 Although electricity from all sources is combined on the power grid, the program diverts the premium paid for renewable energy credits to help sustainable energy producers. Eventually, as technology improves and renewable energy becomes more common, the cost is expected to come down.  

 The cost of buying an estimated 16 million kilowatt-hours of renewable electricity every year will be offset largely by the new energy generated by the solar installations on campus and ongoing energy efficiency efforts, Slack said. Both initiatives are part of SUNY Cortland’s long-term commitment to sustainability. Examples of this commitment include:

  •  Creation of a professional science master’s degree in sustainable energy systems. This new program, which received its first students this semester, focuses on business and practical applications of renewable energy technology. It is unique within SUNY.
  •  Satellite boilers. The College this summer shuttered its inefficient, natural-gas-fired central steam heating plant in favor of individual, high-efficiency boilers in every building. This is projected to reduce the consumption of natural gas by 30 percent.
  •  LEED standards. For years, the College has required that all new construction on campus met Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council. These standards require a range of energy efficiency or alternative power measures. Dragon Hall, SUNY Cortland’s newest residence hall, hopes to receive a “gold” rating, the campus’ highest yet. The new Student Life Center, set to open a year from now, will also be LEED gold.
  •  Geothermal energy. The Professional Studies Building is heated and cooled by a series of 40 wells that carry natural, thermal energy from 400 feet below the surface. Since the building opened in 2011, an estimated 650 tons of carbon emissions have been avoided.
  •  Dragon Buses. When the College replaced several of its campus buses, it chose to purchase propane-burning vehicles rather than the traditional diesel buses. These brightly decorated “dragon” buses operate more cleanly than their predecessors.
  • Community bicycles. The College has a long-established community bike program that allows members of the SUNY Cortland community to borrow recycled bicycles, free of charge, to use around Cortland.
  • No Mow Zone. The College installed several grassy areas that it intentionally decided not to cut in the summer, reducing fuel consumption and allowing wildflowers and animals to flourish.
  • The Green Rep Program. A team of students is hired each year to promote sustainability education and environmental awareness in the residence halls on campus.
  • Dining initiatives. Auxiliary Services Corporation, the non-profit entity that runs the campus dining areas and campus store, has implemented a variety of sustainability measures, including compostable dining utensils, increased local food purchases and the recycling of used fryer oil into biofuel.