SALISBURY, N.C. (WJZY) — “Just electric!” That’s how the energy is described on the Catawba College campus. 

While many of Catawba’s buildings are charged by the sun, the electricity students like Rachel Bentley are referring to comes from excitement. 

“It’s honestly amazing as a student to see so many people come out and support us,” she exclaims. 

One of those supporters was Gov. Roy Cooper, who visited Catawba College on Thursday to celebrate a milestone. The school is the 13th carbon-neutral college in the nation, making it the first of its kind in North Carolina and the entire Southeast. 

“Not only is this going to be good for our planet, but it’s going to be good for our pocketbooks,” Cooper said. 

The governor emphasized the economic benefits of being first. 

“We’re going to see so many businesses coming here also wanting to achieve carbon neutrality in their manufacturing processes,” he explained. 

The conversation around carbon neutrality started in 2007. 

“We took a look at the past, what the college had done over the years and realized we could get emissions down,” said Brad Ives, executive director of the college’s Center for Environment.  

But there have been $242 million in recent donations allowing the college to hit its goal well before 2030. 

Ives says practical, efficient solutions make them more sustainable. Among those is the use of geothermal energy. 

“We’re using water from the ground that in the wintertime is going to be warmer than the ambient temperature, and in the summertime, it’s going to be cooler, which makes your systems have to do a lot less work.” 

Haven solar shelters look like picnic benches, but they’re powered by the sun. They have solar panels overhead that fuel energy to charging ports for cellphones, laptops and everything the students need to get their work done. 

It’s this kind of innovation that puts technology like this, the first of its kind in the nation at Catawba College, and it’s what got them to carbon neutrality ahead of schedule. 

(Courtesy: Catawba College)

Think of carbon usage like water in a bucket. The campus implemented 837 kilowatts of solar panels, some LED lights, and smarter thermostats to cut their contribution at the top. But there’s a hole at the bottom to spill out other ways to offset their carbon, like investing in ways to reduce emissions from rotting food at a local landfill. 

“We think it’s important that higher education leads the way in our actions,” Ives says, “but also being able to take our students, show them what we’re doing, so they can have that ‘Ah-ha’ moment.” 

The college isn’t stopping at carbon neutral; leaders have plans to add even more renewable sources of energy and electric vehicles to get emissions down to zero. Catawba student Bentley continued to express her excitement.

“It can be so disheartening to think about climate change, so events like this can bring a lot of hope, especially for young people that study these things,” she said.