Students, MSU officials weigh in on campus sustainability
Energy is in the air — literally and figuratively — at MSU.
From the coal-burning T.B. Simon Power Plant on the south end of campus to dozens upon dozens of academic facilities, residential buildings and research labs, electrical energy drives seemingly every place MSU students, faculty and staff travel to on a daily basis.
On a main campus of more than 2,000 acres, it takes a lot to power the university — the projected equivalent of more than 214,200 barrels of oil for the 2011-12 academic year alone, according to MSU’s Geographic Information Systems Environmental Stewardship Application.
MSU’s energy usage has been the target of student protests and administrative work groups alike this year.
It’s an issue that has taken center stage this October — Campus Sustainability Month at the university — and questions around MSU’s efforts to “go green” probably won’t disappear anytime soon.
Student representatives from MSU Beyond Coal, MSU Greenpeace and from other universities are scheduled to meet with Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, Administrator Lisa Jackson today to discuss campus sustainability efforts.
Closer to home, MSU’s Energy Transition Steering Committee — comprised of 24 administrators, faculty and students — is slated to make a formal presentation to administrators outlining long-term plans for reducing the university’s environmental impact at the January 2012 meeting of the Board of Trustees.
The plans target landfill waste, electricity and on-campus transportation.
They also call for MSU to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2015, among other targets.
The committee has been working since this spring to prepare and refine its report, taking input from community members and students at a series of town hall meetings.
Despite student input, some still are dissatisfied with their involvement in MSU’s commitment to clean, sustainable energy.
“I think the whole baseline campaign thing is a facade,” said Jordan Lindsay, a history, philosophy and sociology of science sophomore and a member of MSU Greenpeace. “They have this energy steering committee, but that committee is making very vague goals.”
Fueling the fire
Some areas of campus use substantially more electricity than others either because of different operating hours, larger size or greater utility needs, said Jennifer Battle, assistant director of campus sustainability.
The T.B. Simon Power Plant serves as the primary power provider to MSU’s academic and residential operations.
From July 2010 to August 2011, the facility used 15,645.2 megawatt hours of energy. A megawatt hour is about equivalent to the amount of electricity used by about 330 homes during one hour, according to CleanEnergyAuthority.com. In those 13 months, the power plant used about the same amount of energy that 5,162,916 homes would use in an hour.
The National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory — a building with comparable high-energy equipment — used 3,990 megawatt hours in the same time frame.
Energy usage differences extend to the residence halls where students live.
Within South Neighborhood, Wilson Hall used about 276 megawatt hours of electricity from July 2010 to August 2011. On the other hand, Case Hall used about 144 megawatt hours of energy during the same time period.
Brody Hall, which houses Brody Square, used 579 megawatt hours.
Nursing junior Brenda Halloran said she still sees the effects of excessive energy usage in and around MSU.
“People always leave lights on, and they leave water running,” she said.
The differences in energy usage around campus stem from larger things, such as a building’s use of other heating, ventilation and cooling systems, as well as the number of electrical appliances in a facility, Battle said.
“Anytime we air-condition spaces, it really increases the load (on a building),” Battle said.
Cutting back on the amount of material sent to landfills by the university also is a key priority, Battle said.
From 2009-10, MSU as a campus community contributed 7,535 tons of waste to landfills, above the university’s goal of 7,353 tons, according to the Environmental Stewardship Application.
By 2015-16, the university wants to cut the amount of landfill waste it ships out to about 6,839 tons.
Landfill waste includes food waste and trash from campus cafeterias and buildings.
Supply chain management junior and MSU Beyond Coal media coordinator Eric Price said he appreciates the steering committee’s long-term approach to such problems, but he wants sustainability officials to reach out to the general public more.
“It’s things like going out and talking to students,” he said. “Especially kids that live on-campus. They just take (the energy they use) for granted.”
Battle said MSU already has reduced its landfill waste by about 36 percent since 2005-06.
“About 33 percent of what people are throwing away can still be recycled,” Battle said.
The university also is working on efforts to resell other university-owned items through the MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center, she said.
Going green for the future
MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon noted the Energy Transition Steering Committee is just one example of the university’s ongoing commitment to clean energy.
At last Friday’s Board of Trustees meeting, Simon presented a series of benchmarks she said the university has met in recent years.
Simon pointed to the 64 hybrid vehicles used by MSU and a 33 percent reduction of carbon emissions by university-owned vehicles since 2008.
Simon also touted the work of the steering committee and the public input it has received.
But at a discussion forum held by the committee last night regarding its pending proposal to the board, less than ten people attended the meeting.
At another meeting in September, about 25 people attended.
Price said the steering committee still can be more aggressive with their plans.
“(Their plan is) pretty safe, and I think they can look into more innovative ways to move off coal,” he said.