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UNT professor educates the public about green energy
Ben Peyton / Senior Staff Writer
UNT biology professor Ruthanne Thompson has redefined the term green energy for many by informing them that it can not only cause less impact on the environment, but save money as well.
Thompson, through funding from the State Energy Conservation Office, began working on The SMART School Initiative in 2011, to implement renewable energy sources to eight schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and has since monitored them through a website.
Thompson also uses the data she has collected to educate students on the benefits of renewable energy sources as well as city councils and various other groups.
From the start, Thompson encountered difficulties in convincing audiences that the alternative energy options, such as wind turbines, solar panels and various other alternative energy sources, were sustainable.
“I couldn’t get schools to listen to me talk about green design for my life,” Thompson said. “When they heard green design in their minds they heard ‘It’s going to cost me money.’”
Thompson took the cost risks the schools were facing and placed it on herself through the SECO grant, offering to pay the first year’s costs of implementing green energy designs to the eight schools. She said she created a condition that if it the designs did save money, the schools had to commit to paying for it for a minimum of 10 more years.
“I didn’t have any problem with people jumping on board with that,” Thompson said
All eight schools implemented alternative energy sources to their specific needs and regulations and according to her data collections have been improving their energy efficiency.
“When people feel like they are going to make money or save money and look good to people then this whole green thing becomes a perk,” Thompson said.
Some alternative energy sources, such as wind turbines, were denied as in the case of a school in the city of Coppell and other schools had solar panels and small wind turbines on roofs where they were out of the people’s sight.
UNT installed three large wind turbines standing at 120-feet tall with 30-foot blades in February by Apogee Stadium. The turbines provide energy for the athletic center, Victory Hall and the Mean Green Village and were built under the SECO grant.
Thompson believes that although the alternative energy sources are functioning, people need to be able to see it and interact with it to make a personal connection.
“If they can see it on a pretty much daily basis then they get a better feel for it,” Thompson said.
The wind turbine and solar panel located in the parking lot of the Environmental Science Building were also funded by this grant and became the first wind turbine in the city of Denton.
The wind turbine powers the greenhouse at the building and is an example of how students can see sustainable green energy at work.
Forty percent of the city of Denton’s power portfolio is made up of wind energy, said Kenny Banks, city of Denton director of environmental services and sustainability.
UNT is in the top 17 percent of green-compliant universities nationwide, according to the 2013 Princeton Review Guide to 322 Green Colleges.
Thompson believes that if green energy is to progress it must get the support of young people who need to start acting sooner than later, Thompson said.
“We all have to be stewards of the environment and protect our resources for future generations,” regents electrical engineering professor Miguel Acevedo said.