Moving beyond coal good idea, too costly
MSU Beyond Coal, a student group that wants MSU to move away from using coal energy, has some very lofty goals for the university. Unfortunately, those goals also appear to be a bit too idealistic.
Ultimately, the group — which was founded about three weeks ago — wants to convince the MSU administration to completely abandon using coal energy to fuel the university by 2015. Although the idea of losing dependence on coal in favor of cleaner and safer energy sources is a good one, it is just not feasible at this time.
The main obstacle in accomplishing the group’s goal of being coal-free is money, — and a project like this would need a lot of it. Lynda Boomer, the energy and environmental engineer for the MSU Physical Plant, said that using natural gas instead of coal would cost the university $20 million to $25 million more in fuel costs.
Where would that money come from? In all likelihood, it would come out of MSU students’ and their parents’ pockets in the form of higher tuition and living costs. If that is the case — when dividing the number of students at MSU by the estimated $25 million needed — a $535 increase in tuition per student per year would be required for the university to have enough money to completely convert to coal. That’s no small chunk of change, and no matter how much cleaner an alternative to coal might be, we don’t foresee many students being receptive to the idea of having more than $500 tacked onto their bill.
If MSU Beyond Coal wants to attain its goal of a coal-free university, then the group needs to be more proactive. Currently the group is working on getting student signatures on a petition in hopes of forcing the MSU administration to stop using coal. Petitions are all well and good, but they do not necessarily help move our university closer to switching to natural gas.
Rather than petitioning MSU to do something it does not have the funds to do, MSU Beyond Coal could work with the university in making it possible to one day abandon coal — even if it is not by 2015. As the group started just three weeks ago, it is hard to influence such a drastic change so soon. But cooperation between the group and MSU might mean change could come sooner than we expect. MSU Beyond Coal’s members’ hearts certainly are in the right place, but they might find that their end goal — a cleaner, more efficient MSU — might be more attainable by supporting and promoting what the university already is doing.
Right now, MSU is doing a good job of trying to be energy efficient and promoting a cleaner and healthier campus. The “Be Spartan Green” campaign encourages students, faculty and staff to recycle and waste as little as possible. Also, the university has made goals to significantly reduce energy use by 15 percent, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent and landfill waste by 30 percent by 2015, according to the “Be Spartan Green” Web site. It might not be exactly what MSU Beyond Coal wants, but it is what MSU is currently capable of doing right now. If 10, 15 or 20 years from now, the university is prospering and has the funds to successfully abandon coal, it should do so.
None of this is to say that we do not agree with what the group is trying to accomplish. Moving away from coal would be good for MSU and the community. However, to do it in five years seems to be more of a pipe dream than a reality.