BOONE — The Mid-year Appalachian Energy Summit kicked off with a presentation on how higher education institutions can reach climate action goals in various ways.
Dave Karlsgodt, the director of Energy Advisory Services at Brailsford & Dunlavey, Inc., presented on different strategies higher institutions could use to meet goals related to climate.
Karlsgodt is currently leading the energy transition and carbon mitigation efforts with the University of California System and UMass Amherst. Karlsgodt’s presentation was in three parts: a non-linear case study, trends and tech and minding the funding gap.
“Dave has a tremendous amount of experience helping higher education institutions reach their climate action goals,” said Lee Ball, App State’s chief sustainability officer. “He also understands the financial and political challenges and offers very pragmatic solutions based on his first hand experiences.”
The case study Karlsgodt presented was with Michigan State University, which had two clear goals: decrease greenhouse gas emissions and increase the use of renewable energy. Before the university could reach those benchmarks, they had to create a road map.
Early on in the process of transforming a university’s energy system is planning, but Karlsgodt warned officials to not be too specific in the early planning stages.
“One of the things I think we really came back to was making our tools and our planning processes higher level, and not getting down into the weeds on any one solution, especially at this really framing stage,” Karlsgodt said.
Karlsgodt stressed that when a group starts thinking about ways to change the energy system they won’t have all the information. In fact, “you’ll never have all the information you need.”
“But with each planning iteration, you can learn, you can adjust, you can pressure test these ideas,” Karlsgodt said. “While you certainly don’t want your central energy system to fail, we’re still in the world of strategic planning, not the technical planning that you need to do to keep your systems reliable.”
Karlsgodt next presented on some trends in technology. Some of the trends he mentioned include using solar power in buildings, water management and investing in efficient HVAC units.
Finally, Karlsgodt talked about funding these systematic changes to an institution’s campus energy system. Karlsgodt said he thinks one of the biggest issues in creating and funding these big changes is that higher education isn’t set up to invest in energy.
“When a higher education institution makes a financial decision, they’re usually looking at a combination of first cost and strategic impact,” Karlsgodt said. “Would you rather invest in fixing your steam pipes or investing in a new research program, or some pet initiative of the president?”
But when looking from an outside perspective, Karlsgodt said there’s a different picture. If the market looked at higher education, Karlsgodt said the market would see a low risk entity that has a highly bankable project with a good rate of return and low risk profile.
The question Karlsgodt sees is how to get higher education to see itself as an investment opportunity or how to use the market to get access to capital.
“I can tell you, there are billions of dollars kind of waiting and ready to invest in higher education campuses,” Karlsgodt said.
To get there, Karlsgodt said he looks at if they can move campuses to an internal investment strategy where it invests in itself, and can then look at itself as a bank potentially would to make a longer investment.
“The energy transition is here and the time to act is now,” Karlsgodt concluded. “It’s technically possible. That last 10 percent is going to be hard, but you’ve got 90 percent to (figure out) first. It’s going to require capital, probably a lot of capital, but it’s a good investment.”
Ball said Karlsgodt’s presentation was exactly what they were looking for in planning the summit.
“Every time I get the chance to speak to him or hear him present, I learn more about how to solve some of these very challenging issues,” Ball said. “During today’s plenary session, I specifically learned more about creative financial models that some universities are implementing to finance some of the more costly climate action initiatives.”
“AppCAP 1.0: A Vision for Climate Neutrality” is a university guided climate action plan created by the Climate Action Planning Writing Group at App State. The first draft serves as a roadmap or blueprint to guide Appalachian State University towards climate neutrality, according to the document. The Climate Action Planning Writing Group draft plan can be found at sustain.appstate.edu/initiatives/climate-action.
The AppCAP document calls for the university to create a plan to become carbon neutral by 2050. A second draft was originally scheduled for release on Jan. 11, but because of COVID-19, the timeline is subject to change. According to the group, the AppCAP is a “living document” and updates will occur regularly.
The Appalachian Climate Action Collaborative is a collaborative movement for action on climate justice based in Boone. The group calls for the university to achieve climate neutrality by 2025, and has its own plan to achieve that goal as the group felt the university-created plan was insufficient.
ClimACT said in a statement that it realizes the process is limited because of the lack of power that the sustainability office has to enforce policies. The group said broad, systemic change that uses justice and equity as a means of achieving climate neutrality and commitments need to come from people who make decisions.
“The App CAP draft is filled with non-committal language to ‘explore,’ ‘study,’ ‘support,’ ‘research’ and attempts to address justice by claiming that their technical initiatives have a byproduct of justice,” ClimAct stated. “Yes, we do need to explore, study and create research groups — but when we have just nine years to attain our goals, we need to be committing resources, outlining processes of change, and to be drastically more ambitious.”
The group is calling for the sustainability office to publicly acknowledge the groups recommendations and critiques and to create a more ambitious plan that addresses the groups complaints. ClimAct also wants the App State Board of Trustees and Chancellor Sheri Everts to take “adequate action” by developing a permanent and diverse Climate Action Working Group that reports directly to the chancellor’s cabinet.
“We still remain dedicated to achieving Climate Action through a just transition at ASU, are currently working with NRLP and call on the chancellor and Board of Trustees to form a Climate Action Working group so that we are able to achieve these goals in partnership and collaboration,” the group stated.
The ClimACT plan — The Just Climate Action Plan — can be found at appclimact.wixsite.com/climateaction/just-climate-action-plan.
Karlsgodt addressed how students who want rapid change from a university can try and make that happen, but also stressed that it may not always transpire.
“Keep demanding rapid change from university because that is your primary role as a student,” Karlsgodt said. “I would also say, learn as much as you possibly can, and be compassionate about the people that you’re lobbying.”
Karlsgodt said he often sees a university leader who wants to make change, but they are navigating the complexity of running a large organization and getting inundated by students just yelling at them without understanding what they are dealing with.
“I would lead with questions, I would leave with understanding,” Karlsgodt said. “We’re gonna keep demanding change, we’re not letting go of that. But you gotta learn too. Don’t think there is that silver bullet solution.”
The Mid-year Appalachian Energy Summit will host webinars into March with the next one on Feb. 18 titled “University Shut Down and COVID-19 Energy Management Discussion Panel.”
More information on the energy summit and when the next events are can be found at sustain.appstate.edu/initiatives/energy-summit/2021/mid-year.