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University of Michigan adopts net zero plan

Wind turbine
Tim Wang
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DTE expects to build around 50 wind turines in Sanilac and Huron counties. The company is reviewing bids from turbine makers now.

The University of Michigan has adopted a plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions by the year 2040.

Net zero means the combination of reducing the burning of fossil fuels with actions to remove carbon dioxide from the environment, such as re-forestation, or sequestering carbon in geologic formations.

Drew Horning is special advisor to U of M President Mark Schlissel for carbon neutrality strategy. 

He says by 2025, the University plans to get all its outside purchased electricity from carbon dioxide-free sources like wind.

But it will take until 2040 for the University to wean itself from its own natural gas plants.

"Transitioning from the natural gas infrastructure is a challenge for not just for the university but society in our homes and our businesses for heating and industrial processes," he says.  "New technologies are coming down the pike all the time and the cost curves are coming down and we envision that new ones will come along."

Immediate steps will include installing geothermal heating and cooling systems as part of new construction projects -- and electrifying buses on the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses.

Activists in the Climate Action Movement - University of Michigan called the announcement historic, but added it still falls short of what is needed to adequately confront the climate crisis. 

In a press release, the group said:

Given the urgent nature of the crisis we are facing, the proposed timeline is inadequate, and parts of the announcement lack specifics, heavily relying on corporate speak that sounds ambitious while containing insufficient substantive commitment. We can and should do better.
We urge the University to accelerate the timeline for decarbonization with intermediate benchmarks, adopt substantive frameworks for incorporating environmental justice throughout the decision-making process, and work to expand energy democracy across the state through its approach to energy procurement and engagement with state-wide policy.

U of M holds Michigan Radio's license

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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