Efforts by St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) to take meaningful action to reduce energy consumption are paying off, literally. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has named SMCM the number two ranked college for total amount of green power purchased during the EPA’s year-long College and University Green Power Challenge. Colby College was rated number one. Universities were ranked separately. More than 80 schools were evaluated to see if their purchases of green kilowatt-hours (kWh) qualified them for the competition.

A student-led referendum led to an agreement to fund the purchase of renewable energy credits for 100 percent of the school’s annual electricity consumption. Students voted to tax themselves $45,000 a year and put the funds toward lowering the college’s carbon footprint. The college was the first public institution in the State of Maryland and one of only a handful of colleges nationwide to adopt such clean-energy standards.

Since 2007, the EPA has ranked colleges and universities by the total amount of green power purchased. The college bought 15 million kWh during the year-long challenge. Last year, SMCM joined the EPA Green Power Partnership and the Energy Star Program.

All new construction on campus is being developed to be green. Goodpaster Hall, completed in 2007, was constructed under a State of Maryland pilot program for green buildings. The first such major project to be funded by the state, Goodpaster Hall is also a certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver-rated structure. The college’s new River Center is also green in design and is heated with geothermal energy paid for with a matching grant from the students. Both buildings have shown a reduction in energy use by 30 to 40 percent because of their efficiently designed water and electrical systems and their use of recycled materials.

According to an EPA press release, green power is one category of renewable energy and represents those resources and technologies that generate electricity with the highest environmental benefit. Green power is produced from solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, biomass and low-impact hydro. It generates electricity with no net increase of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. In total, the colleges and universities represented in this year’s challenge are buying more than 960 million kWh of green power annually, or roughly the amount of electricity needed to power some 97,000 average U.S. homes each year.

“EPA applauds this year’s College and University Green Power Conference Champions for their leadership in green power purchasing,” said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. “By switching to green power resources, these schools are proving that doing what’s good for the environment is also good for education.”