Renewable Energy for the SouthCoast and UMass Dartmouth
In October of last year, the United Nations released a report stating that the consequences of climate change will be irreversibly severe by 2040 if the world doesn’t take immediate action. This global effort cannot happen without the work of individuals and the commitments from towns, institutions, and other communities to convert to energy resources that are not harmful to our planet.
MASSPIRG is a statewide non-profit, student-run organization that addresses public interests, including climate change. The UMass Dartmouth chapter of MASSPIRG is currently running a 100 percent renewable energy campaign and held an “Energizing to 100% Renewables” event on Thursday, April 4 to discuss renewable energy at UMass Dartmouth and throughout the SouthCoast.
“One hundred percent renewable energy is going to be our way out of using fossil fuels and fuel sources that are dangerous to our health and to the future of our planet,” said speaker Jamie Jacquart, UMass Dartmouth Assistant Director for Campus Sustainability and Residential Initiatives.
During his speech, Jacquart discussed UMass Dartmouth’s initiatives to be sustainable: the campus wind turbine, solar panels, switching from burning No. 5 fuel oil to natural gas, and $25 million’s worth of improvements to reduce the amount of energy needed to power the campus. The university also utilizes a 500-kilowatt battery system that stores energy generated from the aforementioned on-campus methods, as well as off-campus solar sites.
For a decade, UMass Dartmouth has been working with the surrounding area to aim for sustainable means of energy.
“[We’ve been educating the community] on how to be able to create abilities for developers to come in and follow a set of guidelines to then get permitted, as a part of normal course of business, a solar field,” Jacquart said. “Which is why Dartmouth is actually the largest solar provider in the state right now: because they enacted, early on, those set of rules after we convened a whole meeting around that issue.”
Speaker Ben Hellerstein, Director of Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center, shared how the state and the SouthCoast have been progressing toward 100% renewable energy.
“In 2016, the legislature passed a bill that requires Massachusetts to obtain 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind energy in the next ten years,” Hellerstein said. “The state has chosen a developer for the first half of that amount, which is Vineyard Wind.”
Vineyard Wind is based in New Bedford. Once their project located 14 miles off the Massachusetts shore is completed, Hellerstein says it will generate enough clean energy “to meet about six percent of all the power that’s consumed in Massachusetts.” Vineyard Wind’s website says the project will reduce “carbon emissions by over 1.6 million tons per year.”
Committing to 100 percent renewable energy resources may sound like wishful thinking, but it is attainable with today’s technology. Places across the country have already enacted changes, too. In 2015, Hawaii became the first state to commit to 100% renewable energy usage by 2045. Since then, California, New Mexico, Washington, D.C., and—just at the end of this March—Puerto Rico have also made commitments.
“Major institutions here in Massachusetts are doing the same,” said Hellerstein, citing how Boston University purchased 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, like solar and wind, by end of last year.
Hampshire College in Amherst is also on track to become the first U.S. residential college to be completely powered with solar electricity from on-campus installations.
“Colleges can really set the way for the rest of the state to follow,” said Hellerstein.
Current UMass Dartmouth students, who will directly deal with the effects of climate change as the adults holding power, are passionate about the implementation of 100 percent renewables.
“Renewable energies are important, because fossil fuels are super bad for not only the Earth, but for people,” said Caroline Ochs ‘22, intern on the 100 percent renewable energy campaign. “You can already see effects, like childhood asthma is rising.”
Kiki Bekkum ‘22 has seen the effects of fossil fuels first-hand in her hometown of Hana, Hawaii.
“I live near an ocean, so (I noticed) coral die-off,” Bekkum said. “The fish were slowly leaving the base area because of all of the pollution.”
Her community, startled by the environmental effects, began using renewable resources. As a result, the fish came back and the coral started to thrive again. Upon coming to Massachusetts for college, she’s felt “more at-home” because of the push toward renewables on the statewide level.
The ultimate goal is for Massachusetts to use 100 percent renewable resources—including for electricity, heating, and transportation—by 2045. Legislation for the 100% Renewable Energy Act has been co-sponsored by 113 state legislators, which includes a majority of both the House and the Senate. According to Hellerstein, there will likely be a hearing in the new few months on the act, thus taking the first step in Massachusetts’s statewide journey toward a cleaner future.