The University of Connecticut is a leader in the state of Connecticut. When we do things right, the state tends to follow suit.
But on climate change, arguably the most important issue of our time, we have lagged behind. Earlier this year, Governor Lamont announced through an executive order that Connecticut was committed to a zero-carbon electricity grid by 2040. UConn is still committed to carbon neutrality by 2050 — a full decade later.
UConn has plans to build a new natural gas plant to supplement our existing central utility plant, which also runs on natural gas. This plant is a 40-year investment.
If we build it, our goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 will be moot. We cannot be carbon neutral if we are operating a natural gas plant, which emits carbon and methane — two potent greenhouse gases. And as the threat of more radical state and federal climate regulation looms large, it is borderline irresponsible to invest long-term in fossil fuels.
The contradiction of UConn’s carbon emissions goals and the plant’s projected lifespan led student activists to organize around stopping the plant. Last week, their demand was met — at least partially.
As reported by The Daily Campus, President Katsouleas has committed to halting the construction of the plant until his newly formed student-faculty working group on sustainability delivers policy recommendations in the spring.
We shouldn’t take this lightly. Modifying capital investment projects this dramatically, in the last hour, does not happen often. Once approved, large infrastructure projects usually have enough inertia to beat back any challenges to their plans.
At least for now, the president and his administration have stood up to that inertia, and committed to taking student and faculty concerns into account. We applaud the president’s action on this critical issue.
Moving forward, UConn must take a hard look at renewable options — like solar, wind and geothermal — to power all new construction. Decades-long commitments to fossil fuels run counter to any efforts to mitigate our carbon footprint.
UConn can be a leader on climate change, and halting the construction of the new natural gas plant demonstrates as much.
Let’s hope there’s more where that came from.