The President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality is pushing ahead with efforts on methane leakage, indirect carbon emissions and other initiatives in its ongoing effort to guide the University of Michigan toward carbon neutrality.

The commission is ready to move to the next phase of its work across all three U-M campuses and Michigan Medicine as it released its first interim progress report Dec. 2.

The commission outlined work to explore methane leakage in the natural gas supply chain and quantify indirect carbon emissions, among other efforts, in the report that is posted online. The work reflected in the report will allow the commission to develop recommendations for how U-M can achieve carbon neutrality and by when.

“Driving the University of Michigan toward our goal of carbon neutrality is an enormous task. I know that many are anxious for us to move forward quickly, as am I. But we need to explore our options and make smart plans that we know we can implement,” President Mark Schlissel said.

“This interim report demonstrates how we are examining major challenges we face, and it highlights the broad outreach we have conducted to capture the best ideas and engage our community in a goal that will require all of our participation.

“I thank the members of the commission and the many students and community members who are working to help us achieve carbon neutrality at U-M as quickly as possible in a way that benefits society, and that has the greatest potential to make a difference in the global problem of climate change.”

The report marks the completion of the commission’s first phase, as noted from its February launch. It incorporates ideas and input from more than 90 individuals — including a 17-member commission of students, faculty, staff and external partners.

“This first phase of the commission’s work focused on defining the many dimensions of the challenge, developing a plan to effectively address them, securing the expertise needed to carry out robust analyses across multiple geographies and subject areas, and getting that work underway,” said Jennifer Haverkamp, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute and co-chair of the commission.

Through a carbon accounting subgroup, the commission has been analyzing methane leakage in U-M’s natural gas supply chain. After accounting for a 2.3 percent methane leakage rate throughout the entire supply chain, the group estimated that the expansion of the Central Power Plant should nonetheless result in a cumulative reduction of more than 400,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent within the first 10 years of operation.

The subgroup noted the potential of the university to adopt a leak detection and repair program, executed by facilities personnel and the natural gas supply company, as well as atmospheric monitoring in partnership with local government.

Methane leakage in the supply chain falls within the category of Scope 3 emissions, which occur indirectly as a result of university-related activities. The commission expects to recommend that future U-M carbon accounting and goals include a variety of Scope 3 emissions categories — which were not previously included in U-M’s 2025 greenhouse gas reduction goal, established in 2011.

The commission also has engaged Integral Group, a firm specializing in building system design and energy analysis, for an external assessment of potential pathways for evolving heat and power generation infrastructure toward carbon neutrality on the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses. This includes exploring future renewable heat and energy strategies that could eventually replace natural gas.

The firm will provide recommended strategies for carbon-neutral generation infrastructure for various campus locations and facilities, which will include predicted greenhouse gas reductions, proposed timelines for implementation and estimates on financial costs.

In addition, at the commission’s recommendation, U-M joined the University Climate Coalition, a group of 21 higher education institutions looking to share knowledge and ideas to accelerate climate change solutions, and collaborate with local, regional and national institutions working to achieve their climate goals.

Work is ongoing for eight internal analysis teams, established to conduct in-depth research and analysis on specific topics related to carbon neutrality pathways, including: biosequestration, building standards, campus culture and communication, commuting, energy consumption, external collaboration, food and university travel.

The commission also created subgroups, consisting of students, faculty, staff and external partners, to look at other key issues, including social justice and electricity purchasing.

“The next phase will focus largely on the teams’ research, and developing recommendations to present to the commission,” said Stephen Forrest, co-chair of the commission and professor of electrical engineering and computer science, physics, and material sciences and engineering.

The teams will report to the commission in January 2020 on their progress, and are expected to conclude their analyses and present them to the commission by April 2020. The commission will issue a second progress report next spring.

A final report, anticipated in the fall of 2020, is expected to recommend:

  • The scope of U-M carbon neutrality, including emission types and geographic boundaries.
  • A carbon neutrality timeline for each emission scope category included within the goal-setting framework.
  • Pathways and specific strategies for moving toward carbon neutrality across all emission scope categories analyzed as part of the commission’s work.
  • Updated carbon accounting methods and emissions baselines reflecting the best available science.
  • If and when carbon offsets should be used, with relevant guidance regarding quality criteria.
  • Financial costs and benefits, organizational challenges and opportunities, and stakeholder implications associated with the various recommendations.
  • Critical next steps for moving U-M swiftly forward toward carbon neutrality and maintaining a carbon neutral university over the long term.
  • A major goal of the commission is to develop recommendations that others in the state and region could replicate to achieve similar goals.

In the interest of bringing all perspectives to the table, the commission has conducted a range of engagement activities, including three public community forums, engagement with the UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint campuses, and consulting with various advisers.

The commission hosts a public comments portal, for community members to share ideas, and a synthesized and categorized summary of all 157 public comments received to date. It also is working with the city of Ann Arbor to convene town-gown events around interconnected carbon neutrality interests.

Between now and finalizing its recommendations next fall, the commission increasingly will focus its public engagement efforts on gathering stakeholder views of the various options it and the analysis teams will develop.

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