Yale’s Carbon-Neutral Goals May Be Costly, Leave Students Cold

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By Victoria Graham

Cranking up the A.C. or turning on the heat at Yale University could have costly consequences, so students may want to consider wearing an extra layer of clothing to class.

Many campus buildings will be limiting their temperatures to 68 degrees in the winter to meet the university’s goal to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Failure to cut their carbon emissions could cost some departments money.

Yale is the first university in the world to implement a campuswide carbon control program that carries financial implications.

In an effort to fulfill its mission, the university formally launched its program July 1 to monitor, record, and, if necessary, charge for the carbon emissions in more than 250 campus buildings. Those that record carbon emissions that are greater than the Yale’s historic average will have to pay into a university carbon charge pool. Buildings that come in below the average could see extra money from that pool deposited into their operating budgets.

The New Haven, Conn., university set a $40-a-ton-of-carbon price based on the federal government’s estimate of the social cost of the pollutant. This estimates the cost, in dollars, of global damages done by each additional ton of carbon dioxide emissions, Casey Pickett, director of Yale’s Carbon Charge Project, told Bloomberg BNA in an email.

Susan Wells, director of finance and administration at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, told Bloomberg BNA in a phone interview of the potential financial impact for the school.

“It could be a $34,000 charge if we do very poorly and a $34,000 rebate or credit if we do really, really well in comparison to Yale’s other units,” she said. Of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies’ $50 million annual budget, roughly $300,000 goes for operating expenses.

Each Its Own

Departments at Yale, ranging from the schools of art, drama, and management to the law school, are participating in the carbon charge program. Each manages its own operations and operating budget and is responsible for everything from energy bills to facility wear and tear. Now they will be factoring in their anticipated carbon emissions when reviewing their finances.

Campus buildings enrolled in the program will receive monthly statements of their carbon dioxide emissions. These will be compared to carbon emissions of Yale’s campus as a whole. Departments will be charged for each building it’s responsible for if the levels of carbon dioxide emitted is greater than that of the university’s.

Not all university buildings are participating in the program’s initial rollout due to building size and structure complexities.

“We are not engaging buildings of less than 5,000 square feet this year due to cost/benefit of implementation. And we’re not engaging buildings with overly complicated ownership structures because our lack of operation control and, frankly, to whom to send an energy report each presents challenges,” said Pickett, who is hopeful to expand to additional buildings in the coming years.

Twice a year, departments will be assessed for their carbon emissions and pay into a pool if their levels are higher than the campus at large. That could amount to thousands of dollars coming from their operating budgets.

If a school receives funding back from the carbon charge pool, the funds can be used at the department’s own discretion.

Wells is not optimistic that the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies will receive a rebate, but if it does she expects it will put the money toward renovating windows in two buildings or give it to the environmental stewardship committee, which works to reduce the school’s environmental footprint.

To contact the reporter on this story: Victoria Graham in Washington at vgraham@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com

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