Sustainable Energy Initiative approves seven new proposals

An electric car-charging station was one of the proposals approved by the Sustainable Energy Initiative for 2016-17. It is scheduled to be completed in time for fall semester.

Enhancing the Cullowhee Creek corridor, providing a solar panel picnic table and researching how to build a compactor that would remove coffee lids from coffee cups and place each in its respective recycling bin are among the proposals approved by Western Carolina University’s Sustainable Energy Initiative for the 2017-18 academic year.

Seven of the nine proposals submitted were approved. The SEI is a committee of students, faculty and staff advisers that are responsible for allocating money toward the implementation of renewable energy, energy efficiency improvements, research and internships on campus. The money comes from a self-imposed student fee of $5 per semester.

“Last year, we got three proposals,” said Lauren Bishop, chief sustainability officer in WCU’s Office of Sustainability and Energy Management. “That number has gone up tremendously, which is great to see. Probably the coolest one and the biggest one is the Cullowhee Creek corridor enhancement.”

That project, which was unanimously approved, would develop a construction-ready plan to connect existing footpaths along Cullowhee Creek into one continuous, creekside greenway. It also would address stormwater management issues along the corridor and include educational kiosks for use in laboratory exercises across academic programs at WCU.

The proposed greenway would be an easily accessible resource for students and the Cullowhee community to exercise on a relatively flat and scenic footpath, it would prevent students, staff and faculty and members of the community from having to drive to access similar resources in other places, stormwater drainage improvements would keep WCU from contributing to water quality issues along Cullowhee Creek, and therefore, the Tuckaseigee River, and it would provide better access to the creek for WCU classes, making it a living, learning laboratory. The proposal was submitted by geology assistant professor J.P. Gannon.

The Center for Career and Professional Development’s approved project will provide one solar paneled picnic table to be located outside its entrance from Reid Gym. The table will be able to charge and power between 75 and 100 devices per day. Those devices include laptops, tablets, cameras and other electronic devices. It also will have a non-glare LED tabletop lighting system for nighttime use.

One student, Paola Cruz, had her proposal approved to develop a Caffeine Crusher. The project entails completing an extensive period of research in which Cruz will design a recycling compacter that will be able to remove the lids off of coffee cups, which in theory will help increase recycling.

It is hopeful that the device will:

  • Separate plastic lids from cardboard disposable coffee cups regardless of size
  • Compress the beverage containers
  • Manage any fluids from the containers
  • Determine the material of the container (glass, plastic, cardboard, aluminum)
  • Deposit the cup in its respective recycling bin
  • Must not allow the user to tamper with or become injured by the device
  • Must be in use for a minimum of 10 years

Other projects include an intern to assist Bishop and the Office of Sustainability and Energy Management, the planting of fruit-producing trees and shrubbery (such as apple, pear and fig trees and blueberry, blackberry and raspberry bushes) throughout campus in areas for students to enjoy, and installation of bi-level quick fill water fountains in Stillwell Building (two) and the Health and Human Sciences Building (one).

Last year’s proposal winner, an EV car-charging station, is currently being installed in the Reid Gym parking lot. It is scheduled to be open in time for fall semester.

The station will include one charging station for just TESLA vehicles, and two spots for all other electric vehicles. It will be solar powered.

“(Solar power is) something we’re really buying into,” said Joseph Guseman, chair of the SEI and a senior parks and recreation management major from Southport. “We currently have the Electron Garden on the Green that’s all solar electricity. We really like the idea of not just being connected to the grid, but being actually powered by solar energy. It’s a very sustainable way for them to power their vehicles besides gasoline.”

Zach Waldroup, a Robbinsville resident who graduated from WCU in May 2016, is responsible for submitting the proposal for the EV charging stations and is glad to see his idea come to fruition.

“It’s actually going to be kind of like my legacy on the school and I’m very happy that it’s going to make a positive impact on the environment and hopefully bring EV drivers to the area. I think it’s a really great opportunity for Western,” Waldroup said.

Bishop said WCU had its first known student with an electric vehicle register for spring semester. The hope is that the charging station will be able to attract future students. Currently, the nearest charging stations to Cullowhee are in Cashiers and Cherokee.

“Not many universities right now in the state have EV charging stations, so having them on campus will definitely attract students that might have electric cars who are looking for a university that supports that,” Guseman said. “We’re really trying to be a university that supports those green ideas and those sustainable ideas.”