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Purchased Electricity & Renewable Energy Credits

Procuring green power propels U-M toward carbon neutrality.

Purchasing renewable electricity is among the least complex and lowest-cost near-term options for U-M to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. As of FY22, approximately 21% of the university’s electricity use comes from wind generation facilities in northern Michigan, where associated renewable energy certificates (RECs) are assigned to U-M.

Though utilities generate electricity through both renewable and nonrenewable energy sources, it is impossible to differentiate the electrons that flow to a common grid by their respective source. RECs enable institutions to purchase rights and claim the use of renewable electrons.

RECs are recognized by authorities in different levels of government, regional electricity transmission, NGOs, trade associations, and by U.S. case law.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency describes: “Because the physical electricity we receive through the utility grid says nothing of its origin or how it was generated, RECs play an important role in accounting, tracking, and assigning ownership to renewable electricity generation and use. On a shared grid—whether the electricity comes from on-site or off-site resources—RECs are the instrument that electricity consumers must use to substantiate renewable electricity use claims.”

Crucially, RECs cannot be “double-counted,” meaning that utilities cannot sell the same certificate, representing the same portion of renewable electricity, to multiple buyers.

RECs are distinct from carbon offsets. As described by the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, RECs can only counterbalance Scope 2 emissions (those resulting from purchased electricity) because they are attributable to specific electricity sources. RECs cannot be applied to counterbalance Scope 1 or 3 emissions (those resulting from direct, campus sources or indirect sources, respectively).

U-M renewable purchases and goals

In 2022, U-M purchased more than 148 million kilowatt-hours of green power, which the EPA estimates is equivalent to the annual electricity use of nearly 14,000 average American homes. The Ann Arbor campus currently procures more than one-third of its purchased electricity from renewable sources. This power came predominantly from Northern Michigan wind parks which began operating in 2021. U-M is committed to reducing its Scope 2 emissions to net-zero by 2025.

The EPA Green Power Partnership recently ranked U-M eighth among U.S. universities in green power use.

Additionally, U-M aims to install up to 25 megawatts of solar photovoltaic infrastructure across all of its campuses, to connect to the university directly (“behind-the-meter”) rather than through the grid.