Carbon panel exploring methane leakage, indirect emissions


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.



  1. Catherine Seguin
    on December 2, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I am concerned that the Commission has not adopted a working or target date for carbon neutrality that aligns with current science or the City of Ann Arbor’s goals, failing to acknowledge those timelines as critical. Further, we cannot claim to be carbon neutral heavily investing in fossil fuel companies. Finally, the Commission has not undertaken a formal review of the previous Greenhouse Gas Reduction Committee’s report, and why its recommendations were largely abandoned. How will this commission not fall to a similar fate?

  2. Matthew Sehrsweeney
    on December 2, 2019 at 7:19 pm

    Just want anyone that might be reading this article that this is very carefully crafted PR material. There are a number of deep issues with the carbon neutrality commission that this article and the interim report brush over; I will touch on just a few of them here:

    – First of all, the commission only took aim at methane leakage because of tremendous student pressure to do so – students sent a number of articles about this to the commission, and highlighted it as a key demand during the climate strike and sit in last spring. Unsurprising, however, that the university has done nothing to acknowledge this, instead trying to pass it off as a proactive action on their part

    – Though there is a student advisory panel, the commission has not met with them for the past eight months. The student advisory panel was so frustrated with the commission’s lack of engagement that they wrote up a series of formal memos outlining their concerns and presented them to the commission. But over a month later, they’ve received no response

    – More broadly speaking, conversations with members of the commission themselves have revealed that they are deeply frustrated with the extremely slow rate of progress and numerous logistical impediments to tangible action. One source of frustration is the utter lack of communication with the board of regents – the carbon neutrality plan should, in theory, shape the decisions that the regents make for the next several decades, and they are essentially in the dark on its development.

    These are just a few of many issues with the work of the commission and the way in which it is being communicated. A more in-depth look at these concerns is coming soon; stay tuned

  3. Lauren Kuzee
    on December 2, 2019 at 8:28 pm

    Climate change is an issue of the utmost urgency, requiring “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” [IPCC], and this has not been reflected in the actions taken by the Commission.
    ●The Commission has not adopted a working or target date for carbon neutrality that aligns with current science or the City of Ann Arbor’s goals, failing to acknowledge those timelines as critical.
    ●Although the Commission initially committed to establishing“early wins” –actions demonstrating commitment to the Commission’s goal –only one such recommendation has been made (to join the UC3 partnership), an action that requires little actual investment from the University itself. There has been no public mention of such early wins for the past five months.1
    ●Conversations with commission members, advisory panels, and internal analysis teams have revealed significant frustration with the rate of progress toward substantive actions

  4. Noah Weaverdyck
    on December 4, 2019 at 11:22 am

    There are numerous glaring omissions in this report, which is unsurprising given its almost uniformly glowing and self-congratulatory tone, without acknowledgement of the serious challenges we face.

    After 10 months of effort (14 months since its announcement), apparently there has been:

    (1) No discussion of how U-M procures its energy, nor any Internal Analysis Team designated to assess alternatives to purchasing our energy from DTE (of the 20 largest global utility companies, DTE is the *3rd most carbon intensive* [DTE]. How is it that this report fails to even mention the numerous reports that have assessed the potential for on-site renewable energy generation or Power Purchase Agreements to purchase energy from clean sources? Why is it that they assess *coal* as the only alternative to doubling-down on natural gas? What kind of stone-age thinking is going on here, when other institutions are working on how to move *away* from natural gas? [UC Nat Gas]
    (2) The Commission has created *no formal process* to address the conflicts of interest of having the Vice President of Corporate Strategy for DTE sit on this secretive Commission. Perhaps this gives us an indication as to why there has been not a single mention of energy procurement…

    This is just in addition to all of the concerns mentioned by the commenters above (failing to implement or even report on the assessment of the promised “Early Wins”, failing to acknowledge the science of the IPCC, and refusing to meet with student groups, including their own Student Advisory Panel, are pretty egregious in their own right.)
    Meanwhile, we continue to construct new buildings without addressing their energy standards, and we invest $100s of millions to increase fossil fuel extraction in “area[s] with limited drilling locations remaining”[Hagerty], whose profits fund the political meddling of far-right billionaires[Dunn].

    I’ll note that these concerns have been brought up numerous times, but as mentioned above, the claims for incorporating input into this report are highly inflated. Even a rudimentary sampling of the 90+ individuals they say contributed to this report would likely reveal this.

    Discussions with sustainability officers at other institutions make it clear that there is a serious dearth of leadership and commitment at U-M when it comes to this issue, with instead the focus being consistently on generating good public relations for the lowest cost.

    [UC Nat Gas]
    [DTE] Dietz et al. (2017) Carbon performance assessment of electricity utilities: a commentary. The Grantham Institute.
    [Hegarty] World Oil.
    [Dunn] The Money Behind Empower Texans [] []

  5. George Reichel
    on December 5, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    It seems that it would be wonderful to have all of the campus buildings heated and electrified with energy which does not release carbon into the atmosphere. An additional nuclear power plant in the South-East Michigan area would achieve this goal. Perhaps a petition drive to place the issue on the State ballot would help. Who would lead the petition drive?

Leave a comment

Commenting is closed for this article. Please read our comment guidelines for more information.