Green Energy — April 8, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Michigan State University to end burning coal for energy


If you’ve ever spent time at Michigan State University, it’s hard to miss the twin smokestacks of the T.B. Simon Power Plant on the south side of campus. And it’s also hard to miss the gigantic piles of coal next to the plant or the hundreds of coal-carrying train cars that feed the maw of the behemoth.

Starting in 2016, those coal piles will be gone. Michigan State University announced today that they are ending their use of coal for energy and transitioning to cleaner-burning natural gas:

In a move that will reduce emissions at its T.B. Simon Power Plant as well as significantly advance its Energy Transition Plan, Michigan State University is taking steps to stop burning coal by the end of 2016, with a majority of coal purchasing and burning ending in 2015.

The university adopted its Energy Transition Plan in April 2012. Campus leaders said the decision to stop burning coal results from the efforts undertaken to achieve the goals of the plan.

The decision further helps MSU reliably meet its future energy needs in a sustainable fashion.

“Sustainability is one of our guiding institutional principles,” MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said. “This represents a great opportunity for MSU to further reduce its environmental impact.” […]

“Transitioning to natural gas as our sole fuel source gives us a cleaner, stable power supply moving forward,” said Robert Ellerhorst, director of utilities at the MSU power plant, which is the chief power provider to MSU’s 5,200-acre campus.

While the move is a major step in the right direction, not everyone is completely happy with their move to natural gas. Courtney Bourgoin, an MSU student and Sierra Club intern, put it this way: “While MSU’s plan to stop burning coal is a huge step in the right direction, switching to natural gas is not the best solution. We plan to continue pushing for cleaner, safer renewable energy, like wind and solar, in an effort to reduce our university’s carbon footprint and increase students’ say in energy transition decisions.”

MSU alumnus Nic Clark, the state director of Michigan Clean Water Action, echoed Bourgoin’s comments. “By committing to stop burning coal once and for all, MSU is truly being ‘Spartan Green.’ The university needs to continue building on this progress by investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency that will protect student health, and our air and water for future generations of Spartans,” he said. “It’s also critical that the university makes a concerted effort to involve every member of Spartan Nation directly in the planning process. Decisions that are being made will affect every student on campus and they deserve to have a say in this issue that many students have been organizing around for years.”

I’m happy to see that my alma mater is moving steadily in the right direction. I’d love nothing more than to see the giant piles of coal replaced with solar arrays and wind turbines. It would be truly fitting for an land grant college so well known for its Engineering program. Here’s hoping that happens.

[CC image credit: Michael P. Kube-McDowell | Wikimedia Commons]