Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
On Monday evening at the Borough Council meeting, Council member Geoff Semenuk announced that the Borough had surpassed its goal of getting 200 new customers for clean energy. With these additional customers, 26% of Swarthmore households now consume clean energy, the highest percentage of any municipality in Pennsylvania, where the average is closer to 2%.
Swarthmore’s clean energy drive is part of the larger Pennsylvania Clean Energy Communities Campaign, organized by SmartPower and the Pennsylvania Sustainable Development Fund. 23 other communities are currently involved. Now that the borough has committed to purchasing 20% clean energy and has signed up 200 new customers for clean energy, it has qualified for a free solar energy system from SmartPower with a 1K capacity.
Semenuk and Phil Coleman, among other members of the Borough’s Environmental Advisory Council, are going to look into applying for a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency in order to pay for an upgrade to a 5K solar energy collector, which would meet a majority of the power needs of the Borough’s main building.
Molly Tsongas, State Director of SmartPower, was also present at the announcement. She explained that her organization is a non-profit that promotes clean energy. “The point of this campaign is to get local governments promoting clean energy… the local governments set an example and reassure the average consumer that it’s a good product.” Most of the sign-ups through the campaign were through PECO Wind.
26% isn’t all Swarthmore has to be proud of, Tsongas explained. “Swarthmore was in a clean energy competition with Media to see who could get all of their sign-ups first… Media still has 80 more to go.” She recalls, “I think they bet CFLs or something nerdy like that.”
Swarthmore students from Professor Murphy’s History of Social Movements class helped out with the campaign in Spring 2007. Class member Naima Brown ’08 explained that at the beginning of semester, the class voted on various social campaigns to get involved in, and “this one won because it had the most attainable goal… it was the most viable option.”
Among other activities, class members tabled at the Co-op, met with local places of worship, and talked to business owners to encourage them to use clean energy. Hearing that the Borough had reached its goal in part thanks to the students’ contribution, Brown reflected that “Swarthmore is such a green presence in the greater area… it’s really cool to be a part of.”
Swarthmore may be receiving another accolade soon. With the new sign-ups and the Borough’s commitment to buy at least 20% green energy, Swarthmore uses about 10% green power in all, qualifying it as a “Green Power Community” for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Only 11 communities nationwide are currently Green Power Communities, all in the West, such as Palo Alto, CA, Bellingham, WA, and Boulder, CO.