Updated: UI, Chevy make carbon credit deal

Updated: UI, Chevy make carbon credit deal

The University of Illinois will have more than $1 million to put toward further reductions of carbon emissions on campus by selling "carbon credits" to Chevrolet, UI officials announced Friday.

Ask Tom Kacich what this means here


The UI has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions over the past few years, earning carbon credits — a financial instrument used to tally the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere.

Companies, individuals or the government can buy credits to offset damaging carbon emissions they generate; each carbon credit equals one metric ton of carbon dioxide.

In this case, the campus will sell an estimated 150,000 metric tons of carbon credits from the last three years to Chevrolet, but the company will "retire" them. That means they won't be used to offset emissions related to Chevrolet operations or products — or those at any other site, officials said.

That will help the environment and provide money the campus can use to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are having "catastrophic" effects worldwide, said Ben McCall, chemistry professor and associate director of the UI's new Institute for Sustainability, Energy and Environment.

"Our campus has taken a significant first step in reducing its carbon footprint," said Evan DeLucia, UI professor and director of the institute. "Chevrolet has rewarded these positive steps by joining with campus leadership to provide more than $1 million to help campus achieve carbon neutrality by 2050."

The campus 2010 Climate Action Plan pledged to reduce building-related greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by 2015, 30 percent by 2020, 40 percent by 2025 and 100 percent by 2050. The campus is on track to surpass the 2015 goal, according to McCall.

In recent years the university has updated operating systems in more than 50 campus buildings, such as heating and air-conditioning systems, and taken on other energy efficiency activities. As a result the campus carbon dioxide emissions decreased annually from fiscal 2008 to 2012, saving more than $14 million in energy costs, according to UI figures.

The emission number for fiscal 2013 actually ticked up a bit because of the new Blue Waters petascale supercomputer, a huge electricity user, McCall said Friday.

But the total is 100,000 tons a year lower than officials projected when the climate action plan was drafted, and 200,000 tons a year lower than what the campus would have emitted with no sustainability efforts, he said.

How are carbon credits measured? The campus has records of every kilowatt hour of electricity imported from the grid, every truckload of coal and every cubic foot of natural gas used to power the campus. From there, it's relatively simple to calculate how much carbon dioxide is released when those fuels are consumed, he said.

The 150,000 total for Chevrolet is an estimate; the actual figure won't be determined until campus carbon credits are verified and certified by independent agencies.

How much Chevrolet will pay also was not disclosed, under the terms of its agreement with the UI.

Between money from the sale and matching funds provided by the campus, the final amount for new reductions in carbon emissions is likely to exceed $1 million, UI officials said Friday. The campus will earmark that money for projects to reduce greenhouse gases, though no specific projects have been identified yet, McCall said.

Chevrolet helped develop the program under which campuses can earn money for certain upgrades that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is part of the company's Carbon Reduction Initiative to purchase up to 8 million tons of carbon credits from clean-energy projects and technologies in communities across the United States. The nonprofit Bonneville Environmental Foundation works on behalf of Chevrolet to manage the transactions.

The agreement with Illinois is Chevrolet's largest college project investment to date and its first with a Big Ten university.

"Turning a university's energy-efficiency progress into carbon credits enables them to reinvest in even more clean energy technologies," David Tulauskas, General Motors' sustainability director, said in the release. "Chevrolet is supporting the ingenious ways people are reducing carbon and spreading the word about the benefits of a clean energy future."

The campus is facing a tremendous challenge in its commitment to become carbon-neutral by 2050, meaning it must get to zero net carbon emissions, McCall said.

"What we are hoping to do is not only meet that goal for our own campus but train a new generation of students in how to transform other organizations in a similar way, so that we can have a much broader impact in reducing our society's overall greenhouse gas emissions," McCall said.

UI student Anastasia Schemkes of the Sierra Student Coalition praised the UI for setting a strong carbon neutrality goal, the sale to Chevrolet and investing in clean energy.

"Universities exist to serve the public good and set America's next generation up for success, and Illinois' leadership in environmental stewardship shows that it is committed to its ultimate purpose," she said in the release.

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