Environmental plan hopes to eliminate coal use on campus

After the University’s approval of an environmentally minded plan this past May, the campus may be moving to greener pastures sooner than expected.

The project in question­ — the Illinois Climate Action Plan, or iCAP­ ­— plans eliminate all campus coal use and switch to natural gas by 2017.

But Students for Environmental Concerns President Amy Allen said iCAP could accomplish its goals by 2013. Allen, a junior in Engineering, said Students for Environmental Concerns, or SECS, is making the project its main campaign for the fall.

Campus power supplier Abbott Power Plant fires up coal or natural gas, which creates steam that both heats the buildings and provides electricity.

Suhail Barot, treasurer of SECS and graduate student who helped develop iCAP, said that campus energy use has decreased about 13 percent in the last few years, and steam demand has decreased 27 percent.

“This fiscal year that ended this June, Abbott burned 66,000 tons of coal. The year before that it burned 94,000 tons,” Barot said. “So intercampus energy use and steam use is coming down. We don’t think it should take another 7 years.”

Natural gas is a cleaner energy source than coal, Allen said, with benefits such as reduced emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and other by products that come with burning coal.

“If those trends continue, the current natural gas capacity, which is about 80 percent of our peak demand now, would be able to meet the entire demand by 2013 because it will have declined to that level,” Allen said.

SECS will take multiple steps to ensure this progress by planning a meeting with the University’s chancellor—a position currently held in the interim by Robert Easter—to discuss their plans, working closely with facilities and services, offering to assist in analysis and research to help define what steps the University should take, and increasing student awareness, she said.

Natural gas isn’t necessarily the way to go either, said Parker Laubach, vice president of SECS and senior in LAS. “It’s not a final solution by any means, it’s a transition fuel,” Laubach said. “It’s a step from coal to clean and renewable energy, like wind, solar, and those kinds of things.”

In addition to its local work here, SECS will make national efforts this semester as well, such as supporting the Environmental Protection Agency in its campaigns to decrease coal dependence, Laubach said.

“Across the board basically, coal is our focus,” Barot said.

One of the biggest things that the group intends to do create awareness of is an understanding of how people get their power, Laubach said.

“Illinois, we’re different from most states. We get half our power from nuclear, but we still get the other half from coal,” he said.

Many deaths have occurred in the history of coal mining, Laubach said.

“People shouldn’t be dying for us just to have cheap energy, or energy at all,” he said. “That’s a big reason why I think students, or anybody for that matter, are really going to care about this. There’s a significant loss of lives.”

Another issue SECS plans to tackle is to encourage the University to stop purchasing bottled water for events. The University spends $200,000 a year on bottled water, Allen said.