Columbia Achieves 100% Net Zero Emission Electricity for 2022 with Purchase of RECs

Continuing its 2018 commitment to achieve 100% net zero emissions electricity, Columbia University has again taken action to mitigate emissions associated with its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from purchased electricity.

August 17, 2023

Columbia University sustained its commitment to 100% renewable electricity in 2022 for its campus facilities at Morningside, Nevis, Baker, Manhattanville, the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, and the Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Since 2018, Columbia University has voluntarily addressed its Scope 2 GHG emissions from Purchased Electricity with the use of environmental attributes from renewable energy and carbon offsetting projects.

Like Columbia’s renewable energy credit (REC) acquisitions in previous years, the 2022 procurement was sourced from Green-e Certified wind energy projects in the U.S. One REC is equal to one megawatt-hour of electricity. The specified projects and their respective attributes are described in the following table:

Columbia purchased and permanently retired a total of 292,591 RECs from the above energy projects in Kansas and the Dakotas to address 100% of all the referenced campus Scope 2 electricity emissions.

“With the acquisition of these RECs to supplement our other clean energy initiatives, Columbia has again met its commitment to net zero for 100% of its Scope 2 emissions from purchased electricity,” said Jessica Prata, Assistant Vice President for the Office of Sustainability. “This builds on efforts actively underway to achieve net zero emissions for Scope 1 as well as Scope 2 emissions by 2050 or sooner, as outlined in Plan 2030.”

Columbia’s Plan 2030 Campus Energy goal articulates the University’s commitment to electrification and 100% renewable electricity. Columbia’s strategy is to transition as rapidly as is practical from brown power paired with RECs to zero-emission electric sources on the New York grid. In the interim, as Columbia invests in campus electrification and utilizes market RECs, the University has been focused on obtaining environmental attributes from areas of the country where the brown power displaced by renewable electricity is more carbon intensive than the New York City grid.

Based on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) eGrid emissions data, the grid emissions factor for the Westchester/New York City subregion in 2022 was approximately 818 pounds of CO2e per megawatt-hour. Comparatively, the wind projects displaced brown power in the SPP-North and the MRO-West subregions with carbon coefficients of 999 and 1,103 pounds per megawatt-hour, respectively.

“Strategies outlined in Plan 2030 are being implemented to advance the University’s broader sustainability goals,” said David Greenberg, Executive Vice President for University Facilities and Operations. “Studies were recently conducted to develop a Strategic Decarbonization Master Plan that will meet Plan 2030 and NYC Local Law 97 (LL97) emissions reduction requirements. As we seek to end our reliance on fossil fuels, and as technology options emerge and regulation and energy markets evolve that allow us to reduce, re-profile, and re-supply our energy requirements, Columbia will be engaged and ready to respond.”

Plan 2030 also set Columbia on the GHG reduction trajectory determined by science as necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. In setting science-based targets for the University, Columbia utilized guidance from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP). Columbia’s consistent historical application of environmental attributes from renewable electricity to address Scope 2 Purchased Electricity, and its commitment to persist with that practice as long as necessary, plays a key role in reaching Columbia’s science-based targets and keeping cumulative GHG emissions within Columbia’s carbon budget.