To the surprise of some, the idea quickly gained traction. Within a year Yale President Peter Salovey
appointed a task force, chaired by Nordhaus, to examine whether a carbon tax would be a feasible and effective tool in the university’s sustainability initiatives. Then in April, Salovey announced that Yale would move ahead with a pilot project exploring different carbon pricing options.
Putting a price on carbon has been well explored in the private sector, with more than 400 companies working on internal carbon prices. But integrating such a plan on a university campus is a far different thing.
“This is taking place and is certainly gaining traction in the corporate world,” said Ryan Laemel
’14, the Carbon Charge Project Coordinator, who along with Milikowsky is helping to implement the pilot project. “But when we start to think about it from an institutional perspective — especially at a university that has so many different types of buildings and actors — it becomes a much more complicated problem. And that’s one of the fundamental goals: to think about how internal carbon pricing might work at a complex institution like Yale.”
Advocates hope the pilot project, which officially began on Dec. 2, will provide some answers. In a series of experiments, 20 different Yale buildings will be used to test one of four different carbon-pricing schemes over the next six months.
The four carbon pricing models are:
A “distributed charge” model in which poor performers — i.e. those who fail to meet their emissions targets based on past performance — pay good performers. It’s a zero-sum game in which, “If you don’t keep up with the Joneses, you gotta pay,” said Milikowsky.
A target-based model that requires all units to meet 1-percent carbon reduction targets in order to receive annual rebates from the university.
An energy-efficiency earmark model that promotes investment in future energy improvements. In this scenario, units will pay a monthly carbon tax that is returned at the end of the year on the condition that it be spent on “energy action” improvements within their buildings.
A price signal model in which individual units will receive utility bills that include detailed information about their energy use. The bills will include, for instance, information about how their energy usage translates into environmental terms known as a “social cost of carbon” that measure the relative environmental impact of GHG emissions.
“Feedback from the participants and an analysis of the results will inform a broader conversation about whether and how to consider potential wider implementation at Yale,” Salovey said in an announcement this week
. “We believe that this pilot project can serve as a model for other institutions, expanding Yale’s role as a pioneer in researching, teaching, and designing climate change solutions.”
Kroon Hall, the administrative home of F&ES and Yale’s first LEED-certified building, will be one of five units assessed in the first scheme. But while the premise of that model is a zero-sum competition among the participants, F&ES administrators plan to work cooperatively with the other departments, said Susan Wells
, the Director of Finance and Administration.
“I’ve already reached out to my peers in those other buildings to say, ‘We know this is posited like Survivor, but let’s get together and share best practices,’” Wells said. “Nobody suggested that, but that’s the way we like to roll at F&ES. Let’s collaborate.”