Fossil-free by 2030.

Once a resounding call from student activists, the message is now echoed in plans to completely sever the campus’s reliance on natural gas.

On Oct. 12, the Decarbonization & Electrification (D&E) Task Force completed and released their Predesign Report to the public. The task force spent 14 months identifying ways for UC Santa Cruz to eliminate carbon emissions.

This effort to create a pathway for decarbonization began with UCSC Climate Coalition’s Earth Day Protest in 2022. In front of Kerr Hall, student organizers brought their demands to Chancellor Larive and Lori Kletzer to create a fossil fuel-free campus. 

As a founding member of the UCSC Climate Coalition, Max Rogozienski has seen the journey of the coalition from its beginnings at Earth Day 2022 to working with the administration to make the campus fossil fuel-free. 

“It started as this group of friends trying to make a difference in this world,” Rogozienski said. “I see that growth and I’m just so inspired by it.”

Four months later, the Chancellor formed a group in collaboration with the Physical Planning, Development & Operations (PPDO) and Sustainability Office to figure out how UCSC could move away from fossil fuels. UCSC’s Decarbonization & Electrification Task Force is co-chaired by Associate Vice Chancellor of PPDO Tony Cobb and Assistant Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives & Sustainability Elida Erickson. 

The task force also included a wide range of staff from the PPDO department, representatives from the UCSC Climate Coalition, and other stakeholders on campus.

“It’s exciting to work at a university that recognizes how important and essential our academics and research is,” said co-chair of the task force’s technical committee Ellen Vaughan. “It won’t mean much if we don’t have a safe world for our students to grow up and live in.”

The Report

The cogeneration plant produces 64 percent of UCSC’s carbon emissions, which combusts natural gas to make electricity and supply heat to Science Hill.

In 2015, UCSC reinvested in the cogeneration plant for 30 years, requiring the school to pay for the plant until 2045. 

“I believe it was a mistake,” said Ian Cowan, a UCSC alum and former student representative on the task force. “But for today, it is a piece of infrastructure that the campus relies on.”

The D&E report aims to reduce Scope 1 emissions, carbon produced directly from university operation. It details plans on decommissioning the cogeneration plant and moving to the power grid, along with building decarbonization stations around campus to supply heat to classrooms and dorms. 

The report also looks to reduce Scope 2 emissions, which are indirectly produced through purchased electricity. Without the campus generating its own power using methane, UCSC will use renewable and carbon-free energy from the UC Clean Power Program. 

“It gives us a luxury that all we need to do is figure out how to get enough clean electricity to campus, and we’ll be able to decarbonize,” said Associate Engineer, PPDO project manager, and member of the D&E Task Force Phil Boutelle. 

Decarbonization stations will supply heat to college pairs using electric heat pumps instead of natural gas. They will be located away from buildings to not disturb campus communities

While Westside Research Park is already part of PG&E’s power grid, the report outlines the potential for solar arrays, batteries, and micro grids. In cases of power outages, electricity generated through these means will keep the buildings running and research ongoing. 

Plans for decarbonizing campus depend on when PG&E can supply the additional power that electrification requires. 

Looking Forward

In July, the UC Office of the President announced that the university system would adopt more robust climate goals, including a deadline for all campuses to fully decarbonize by 2045. Environmental activists believe this deadline is too late. 

According to the Global Carbon Project, if carbon emission rates stay the same, the earth will reach warming above 1.5 °C in nine years. Above 1.5 °C, it becomes much harder to reverse the effects of climate change due to “tipping points” that increase the negative effects of climate change. 

Because of the urgency that the climate crisis presents, the 2030 deadline is critical.

“We can’t wait another 20 years or something to decarbonize,” said assistant professor of psychology Jason Samaha, a UCSC Climate Coalition representative on the task force. “We’ve waited until the very last minute, we need to act as soon as possible to reduce emissions.”

Though the creation of plans for decarbonization and electrification have been completed, the work is not over. A report from PG&E about plans for increasing the amount of power brought to campus is expected in January 2024. An additional report exploring funding options for the projected $700 million budget is expected to come out next academic year.

In the meantime, students have a role to play: provide feedback on the report, stay educated on climate change, and keep the administration accountable for the 2030 deadline.

Above all, Rogoziensky emphasized one point that he believed students should take away from the report.  

“If you have something you feel strongly about, go out and take action on that,” Rogoziensky said. “Create that change.”