The University of North Texas took a major step toward powering the campus with renewable energy thanks to a student group that is buying “renewable energy credits” from Denton Municipal Electric.

University officials announced last week that the We Mean Green Fund bought a year’s worth of renewable energy credits from DME's GreenSense Energy program. Neither UNT officials nor DME would disclose the purchase price.

DME spokesman Brian Daskam called the students' purchase "a significant increase in the adoption of the GreenSense program."

When a wind or solar farm delivers a megawatt of power to the electric grid, the delivery generates a renewable energy credit. The credits are used like currency. They can be sold to other customers who want to support renewable energy over electricity made another way. Renewable energy credits ostensibly help finance renewable energy projects.

The students' purchase should be enough to cover electric usage at both Denton campuses for a year, officials said. UNT has 174 buildings on about 900 acres, including the 300-acre Discovery Park campus in northern Denton.

Until the students' purchase, individual Denton homeowners made up the majority of the DME GreenSense Renewable Energy customers. They pay, on average, about $5 more per month for electricity to subsidize the city's purchase of renewable energy credits. Art Glass Ensembles was among the first small businesses to join when owner Christie Wood enrolled last year. In all, about 160 DME customers are enrolled in the city's program. 

The UNT credits come to about the same as powering 7,919 homes, university officials said.

Last year, local activists with the Denton Drilling Awareness Group, including UNT music professor Ed Soph and retired UNT staff member Elida Tamez, challenged the university to buy renewable energy. Environmental philosophy professor Adam Briggle helped make the idea a reality by working with his students, Soph said.

Briggle and the students put together the final proposal for a student committee overseeing the We Mean Green Fund. The fund began in 2010 after UNT students voted to accept a $5 environmental fee among their tuition and fees schedule. The fund accepts proposals for sustainability projects from any student, faculty or staff member.

Part of the proposal also includes an educational campaign. Adam Miller, a mechanical and energy engineering major at UNT, will lead the campaign to increase renewable energy use on campus. The campaign includes visits to classrooms and student organizations to explain the program. An educational website is part of the project, too.

If successful, the group plans to continue the program for at least four more years, said UNT spokeswoman Nancy Kolsti.  

In a prepared statement, Briggle called the purchase “a giant leap forward for UNT in terms of our commitment to sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint.”

There are other universities around the country that buy most of their power from renewable sources or through renewable energy credits. Currently, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville ranks first on the college and university list of Green Power Partners with the Environmental Protection Agency. In schools from Texas, the Tarrant County College District ranks No. 14 and the Texas A&M System ranks No. 20. 

Soph said he was pleased with the additional steps the university has taken. He hoped it would inspire other DME customers to enroll in the GreenSense program.

“It’s an opportunity to use clean, non-polluting, renewable energy,” Soph said.

UNT also generates a small amount of renewable energy on campus, including electricity generated from solar panels installed on Stovall Hall and three wind turbines at Apogee Stadium.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. 

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