Campus members advocate for fully clean energy in Earth Day rally

Photo of climate strike rally
Justin Wang/Staff
The UC Green New Deal coalition has gathered community support for a proposal in support of decarbonization of energy and transportation systems and other sustainable practices.

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Campus community members gathered to observe a UC systemwide Earth Day climate rally on Friday, which is also World Earth Day, and called on the UC system to be proactive on climate-friendly policies.

In 2019, students, faculty and staff members formed the coalition UC Green New Deal, or UC GND, in response to campus climate protests, according to Ashi Mishra, a campus sophomore and co-director of the campus coalition. The coalition aims to call on the UC system to take “concrete and integrated” actions to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, according to a press release from UC GND.

“We believe the administration has not been taking enough action towards promoting a more equitable transition towards clean energy,” Mishra said.

In October 2021, using input from community stakeholders, the UC GND Coalition Building Working Group approved a platform outlining recommendations and funding possibilities for the UC system, according to a UC GND policy platform proposal. The proposal calls for several key actions, including decarbonization in energy and transportation systems. It also seeks to address issues of environmental and worker justice and advocates for sustainable practices in construction, waste and food systems.

As of press time, the coalition has collected more than 1,600 signatures for an online petition to the UC Office of the President, UC Board of Regents and the chancellors of the 10 UC campuses. The rally was the first time the coalition publicly advocated for the petition, Mishra said.

At the rally, ASUC Senator Jason Dones’ office offered pots and seeds for planting and decoration as a “tangible reminder” for the campus community to take care of the Earth, according to Loren Jones, the office’s campus community director.

“It has been a while since we are in one place with like-minded people fighting for similar goals,” said Britney Wu, a campus sophomore and vice president of communication of the Sustainable Development Goals Undergraduate Research Group.

According to the campus’s Clean Energy Campus initiative website, UC Berkeley maintains the oldest energy infrastructure in the UC System. The UC system is currently advocating for $1.6 billion in state funding, with campus requesting that $365 million go to replace the current 30-year-old natural-gas-burning cogeneration plant.

At the moment, the plant supplies 90% of campus energy, according to the Clean Energy Campus website, and only has less than 10 years of usable life left.

Since 2015, the campus Office of Sustainability and UC Berkeley’s Clean Energy Campus initiative had been looking into more than 12 options before it finally narrowed them down to the current plan of a fully clean-energy microgrid, according to Kira Stoll, chief sustainability and carbon solutions officer and director of the Office of Sustainability. Stoll said the grid would be run on 100% clean electricity and supported by other renewable energy sources and storage.

If the budget proposal is approved, campus plans on developing one central plant located on North Field; the Clean Energy Campus systems and power distribution network would be fully operational by 2028, heating and cooling campus buildings, Stoll said.

The result of the budget proposal will come as early as mid-June, Stoll said, adding the energy infrastructure would be operational for at least 50 years. Stoll added the office will continuously work with scientists and the campus community to make the system adaptable for technological advancement in the future.

Apart from the current energy proposal, students at the rally also brought up other options, including the use of biodiesel and nuclear energy.

Garrett Pohlman, a campus senior and member of the Biofuels Technology Club, said the club hopes campus will consider the use of biodiesel. He added that the club turns waste cooking oil from the campus dining halls into biodiesel for use and is running a 50-gallon reactor at the Richmond Field Station.

In the meantime, Chris Forsyth and Alex Griffin, student advocates for nuclear energy alternatives, said small modular nuclear reactors should be taken into consideration in order to reach campus’s goal of 100% zero emissions from heat and electricity by 2032.

Stoll said campus intends to provide opportunities for collaboration with students on meeting campus’s sustainability goals. According to the campus proposal, the North Field development would offer those opportunities for research and collaboration.

“(It is) an opportunity for ongoing collaboration and learning and research,” Stoll said. “With that intention, we will keep the opportunities open.”

Contact Winnie Lau at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @winniewy_lau.