Long-term plan to end use of fossil fuels at UCSC is released

Students tabling at Decarbonization & Electrification town hall gathering.
Students tabling at the Decarbonization & Electrification Town Hall gathering. (photo: Alessandra Alvares) 

The Decarbonization and Electrification (D&E) Task Force has released a long-term campus plan to end the use of fossil fuel at UC Santa Cruz and move to 100 percent clean and renewable energy sources. 

Last year, Chancellor Cynthia Larive charged the task force, co-chaired by Tony Cobb, associate vice chancellor for Physical Planning, Development and Operations, and Elida Erickson, assistant vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and sustainability, with identifying specific actions UCSC could take to reduce scope 1 and scope 2 carbon emissions by 2030. Scope 1 includes emissions occurring as a direct result of university operations. Scope 2 emissions are associated with the generation of purchased electricity. 

“Humans have had a direct hand in climate change, and I am a believer that we need to act to reduce carbon emissions and bend the curve,” Larive said. “Charting a multi-year plan to end the use of fossil fuels on our campus and reducing our carbon footprint in other ways will make a real difference ecologically while also demonstrating to others what can be achieved when sustainability is prioritized.”

Each of the 10 University of California (UC) campuses and their Health Centers are required to create a plan to end the use of fossil fuels. UC Santa Cruz received $1M from the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) to support this work. The total investment to replace fossil fuel energy systems on our campus is estimated to be approximately $700 million. 

The D&E plan provides scenarios for achieving a 95% reduction in emissions by 2030, considered a rapid pace. It also provides options for 2035, 2040 and 2045. Campus efforts build on the UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative announced by UCOP in 2013 and on UC Santa Cruz’s previous work, including the Long Range Development Plan 2020-2040 and the 2017 Climate and Energy Strategy (CES) document. Broken into 12 phases grouped by campus regions, the work focuses on the residential campus, Westside Research Park and Coastal Science locations and covers natural gas use - boilers, furnaces and stoves - and the campus’s Fackler Cogeneration Plant, which uses 64% of the natural gas on campus. 

“The Decarbonization and Electrification task force has been instrumental in driving our campus towards a more sustainable and environmentally responsible future,” said task force co-chair Tony Cobb, “Their tireless efforts have not only raised awareness but also produced concrete actions that will propel us closer to our fossil free goals. The work by the task force and the support from Chancellor Larive and our campus, is a testament to our commitment to a greener tomorrow and showcases our resolve to lead by example in the crucial fight against climate change.”

Over the past year, the task force has held a series of workshops looking at UCSC’s existing infrastructure, future campus growth, transportation, near-term opportunities and financial outlook, and also held two town hall gatherings to keep the campus informed on the committee’s work, on-going campus and University of California (UC) climate efforts and provide a venue for discussion. 

In July, University of California President Michael V. Drake announced that UC is adopting more robust climate action goals that prioritize direct emissions reduction, move away from the use of carbon offsets and align the university’s goals with those of the state of California. Each of the ten campuses and Health Centers will have the flexibility “to enact decarbonization plans that account for their specific circumstances and challenges,” President Drake said. 

“UCSC has a leg up on meeting President Drake’s charge,” said Elida Erickson, assistant vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and sustainability. “Chancellor Larive was responsive early on to calls from the campus community to move away from our reliance on fossil fuels, and we are excited that we now have a robust technical plan that identifies the best potential paths forward to electrify UCSC.”

Electrification is the cleanest option. One of the biggest constraints the report identified was the need for a greater supply of electricity to campus to cover the immense additional load required to move from natural gas to electrical heating. Electrification is a vital part of all new housing and work construction, including the expansion and renovation of Kresge College, Student Housing West, Family Student Housing and the Bay Tree Campus Store. The campus is working closely with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to increase the amount of power coming to campus in order to meet the current demand and plan for future needs.

The University of California provides the campus with 100% renewable electricity through its Clean Power Program. In May, UC signed an energy contract with SunZia Wind adding wind to its renewable energy portfolio. The expected electricity generation from this 85 megawatt wind farm equals the total annual electricity consumption of UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Barbara, UC Riverside and UC Merced combined. 

While the campus vehicle fleet makes up less than 4% of Scope 1 emissions, partial decarbonization of the fleet - cars, trucks and buses - is needed to reach the university’s emission-reduction goal. Only 5% of the current fleet of 426 vehicles is electric. 

Over the next year, the campus will analyze the report’s recommendations and costs, assess potential equity issues by evaluating the impacts of decarbonization on people’s daily lives across campus as well as regionally and identify a target date when UCSC can become fully fossil free. Visit the Social Justice and Inclusion website to learn more about the Just Transition and Equity subcommittee

For more information on the campus plan and UCSC’s fossil-free work, visit the Decarbonization and Electrification Planning website

Your partnership, comments and suggestions are essential to implementing this plan. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about the D&E plan or implementation process, please submit your thoughts here