Wind Power at the University of Colorado, Boulder

The Declaration, Volume 4, Number 2 : May 2001  [Spotlight]

By Ghita Levenstein

Last spring, in the largest student voter turnout in University of Colorado-Boulder history, students voted by a 5 to 1 margin to increase student fees by $1 per semester for 4 years to purchase wind power from Xcel Energy’s Ponnequin wind farm. The increase in fees will raise $50,000 per year, enough to purchase the output of an entire wind turbine (2 million kWh per year), making CU-Boulder the largest university purchaser of wind power in the nation! This clean, renewable source of energy will lower campus emissions of CO2 by 2.8 million pounds every year.

In the beginning of spring semester, the CU Environmental Center wrote a proposal to the student government (UCSU) to fund the additional cost for wind power, but this was turned down. The Environmental Center then decided to put a referendum question on the ballot for the spring 2000 elections, giving students the opportunity to vote on a fee increase to support clean energy produced by wind. A group named Clean Energy Now! was created to run the campaign and consisted of students, volunteers, Environmental Center staff, and staff from the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies.

After collecting the required 1,000 signatures to get the referendum on the ballet, the group began campaigning three weeks prior to the election. To pass, 15% of the student population needed to vote in favor of the referendum. This was a steep hill to climb – in the past, only 11% of the population voted at all. Aware of the challenge that faced them, Clean Energy Now! prepared a large-scale campaign. They made posters, placed ads in the student paper, wrote letters to the editor, sent out press releases, lead class discussions, chalked sidewalks, distributed fliers, and handed out two thousand pinwheels to symbolize wind power. During the week of elections, Clean Energy Now! constructed a “CU wind farm” comprised of hundreds of pinwheels in the center of campus. Next to the CU farm stood a seven-foot tall wind generator donated for use during the campaign.

The campaign was a huge success and students’ votes showed an overwhelming amount of support of wind energy, with 5,178 in favor and 1,096 opposed – the largest margin of any referendum on last spring’s ballot. Thanks to the efforts of students, the University of Colorado at Boulder is now the largest university purchaser of wind power in the nation. Ralphie, the CU Buffalo emblem, is now proudly displayed on one of the wind turbines at Xcel Energy’s Ponnequin wind farm in honor of the students’ efforts and leadership in the clean energy arena.

The clean, renewable electricity generated by the turbine will reduce campus emissions by about 1,400 tons of carbon dioxide, 14,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide and 10,000 pounds of nitrogen oxides each year. The Environmental Center hopes this is just the beginning for clean energy use here at CU, as well as a model for other universities and organizations to follow.

Ghita Levenstein is the Energy Coordinator at the University of Colorado Environmental Center. She can be reached at tel: 303-492-8308; email:

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