Two of Virginia’s top colleges are going to work together to fight climate change.

The University of Virginia and the College of William & Mary on Monday announced plans toward becoming carbon neutral by 2030, offsetting the schools’ greenhouse gas emissions with more renewable energy and other steps.

“Climate change is a real threat and is something that we should be taking action on,” said Calandra Waters Lake, William & Mary’s director of sustainability. “There is increasing evidence that we have a shrinking timeline in order to take that action, and although 2030 is ambitious, it is achievable. We believe it’s the appropriate thing to do.”

To do that, the universities said in a news release that they will share information with each other and collaborate on different initiatives.

For William & Mary, where the majority of the school’s greenhouse gas emissions come from electricity, that will mean looking at renewable energy. The university is considering a power purchase agreement that could result in 60% of the electricity used on the Williamsburg campus coming from solar farms.

“We believe we have an option to really address the largest source of our emissions, which is one of the reasons that we believe 2030 is so achievable,” said Waters Lake, who was hired in 2014 as the university’s first sustainability director.

Through the agreements, solar energy companies purchase, own and maintain the solar panels just like any other energy business. Colleges agree to buy the electricity produced by the solar energy system, normally for at least 25 years.

The agreements have helped lead a statewide K-12 movement toward solar energy. The number of Virginia K-12 schools with solar energy has nearly tripled in the past two years from 29 to 86, according to a report released last week by the Charlottesville-based advocacy organization Generation180.

William & Mary is also hiring a consultant to look at alternatives to natural gas for heating and steam production, an energy source that makes up roughly a quarter of the university’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the news release.

The information from the planning and implementation of the initiatives will be shared with UVA.

In its own news release, the Charlottesville school said it will expand the number of plant-based meals offered to students, switching to sustainably raised meats and trying to reduce food waste, among other goals.

UVA’s governing board endorsed a plan in 2011 for the school to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2026 compared with 2009 levels, a goal the university is set to reach this year, according to the news release.

Cheryl Gomez, UVA’s co-chair of its sustainability committee, said that to meet the 2030 goal, it will increase how much it uses renewable energy sources, such as solar panels.

“UVA will seek to catalyze change to advance these new, ambitious sustainability goals in ways that create replicable and collaborative models to build bridges with our community and beyond,” said Andrea Trimble, the director of UVA’s Office of Sustainability.

UVA’s board of visitors is scheduled to meet Friday to consider the new sustainability proposal.

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Politics/Education Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers state government and education. A northern New York native and a Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at the RTD since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

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