Students urged Georgetown University to disclose the details of the timeline on a solar panel initiative that would deforest 240 acres of land but provide half of the university’s electricity needs at a Feb. 10 forum.

The university is contracting a third party to review the project, a decision supported by student-run environmental advocacy groups.

Samantha Panchèvre (SFS ’19), chair of the Georgetown University Student Association’s sustainability policy coalition, said she sees the decision as a response to the efforts of student advocates.

“It looks like they’re listening,” Panchèvre said. “The way she made it sound to me was that it was in response to the negative press and the concerns that have been raised.”

FILE PHOTO: ANNA KOVACEVICH/THE HOYA | Georgetown is contracting a third party to evaluate a solar panel initiative that would deforest 240 acres of land. Students pushed the university to release further information on the evaluation at a Feb. 10 forum.

Students in the forum said they want the university to keep students informed throughout the process. GUSA’s sustainability policy coalition seeks to determine who is performing the review, as well as obtain a timeline for the review process, according to Rowlie Flores (COL ’22), the coalition’s outreach coordinator.

The university reached the solar project agreement with Origis Energy in September 2017 to meet its goal of halving the university’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. La Plata, Md., the proposed site of the solar panels, is located 25 miles south of Washington, D.C., and has been deemed an important bird area, according to the Audubon Society, a bird conservation group.

The Maryland Department of Energy scheduled a hearing for Feb. 27 in Charles County, Md., in response to criticism the project has received from local environmental activists who argue the site holds important ecological value and that Origis should consider other locations to install their solar panels.

University officials maintain that the benefits from the project would outweigh the deforestation in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

“The US EPA’s public greenhouse gas calculator tool estimates that the proposed offsite solar project would reduce greenhouse emissions equivalent to planting more than 429,000 trees, which is the amount of carbon sequestered by approximately 30,000 acres of forest,” university spokesperson Matt Hill wrote in an email to The Hoya.

Origis is working to address environmental concerns, including with an initiative to plant flora that will attract pollinating insects, according to Edwin Moses, the project’s managing director.

“Our Pollinator Plan will contribute back to the community and surrounding habitat and our Forest Conservation Easements will provide perpetual forest protection, a sound community investment which we are honored to contribute,” Moses wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This amount of solar on this site is an excellent solution for Georgetown and for Marylanders.”

While the forum’s attendees focused on the solar project, students also took the opportunity to push university administrators on other sustainability measures, such as reducing single-use plastics on campus and divesting from fossil fuels.

Student-run group Georgetown University Fossil Free submitted a proposal Jan. 17 urging the university to divest from companies that sell fossil fuels. The proposal was submitted to the Committee for Investing in Social Responsibility, which advises the university on financial decisions.

CISR has not responded to the group’s request to meet in advance of the committee’s Feb. 24 meeting when it will consider the proposal, according to Celia Buckman (SFS ’21), a member of GUFF.

“We worked hard to create our proposal and the bureaucratic infrastructure that enabled its submission, and expect that level of dedication and effort to be matched by CISR in reviewing it,” Buckman wrote.

One Comment

  1. Victoria Ma says:

    Is there information on where to find the contractor’s environmental impact assessment?

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