SDSU currently uses about 8,000 tons of coal each year to provide heat and hot water to the campus facilities, according to the Sierra Club.
Due to this, the club has recently launched the Campus Beyond Coal campaign, which is “an effort to transition the country away from fossil fuels, particularly coal,” Peter Carrels, a regional representative for the Sierra Club from Aberdeen, said.
The campaign was launched last fall and has reached more than 50 campuses. At SDSU, the Sierra Club’s main focus is informing people about the consequences of coal.
“Right now it’s important, at this stage, to educate students, faculty, administrators, alumni and members of the Brookings community that there are viable alternatives for coal,” Carrels said.
On Feb. 23 to 25 the Sierra Club had a booth in The Union where they handed out flyers that explained their concerns. Kayla Miller, president of the Sierra Club and senior microbiology major, said she was pleased with the feedback.
“Quite a few people stopped by and were interested in hearing about the coal on campus,” Miller said.
The Sierra Club does not have any finalized suggestions for SDSU’s campus, and Carrels said they are still “in the early stages.”
“There are a lot of factors involved in transitioning a campus like SDSU away from coal,” Carrels said. “This doesn’t happen overnight. It’s going to be a long-term process.”
A major factor to consider will be what is financially possible. Ball State University and Cornell University have recently said they will be launching alternate energy plans to replace coal plants. For Ball State, it will cost about $70 million, and Cornell estimates about $80 million.
Lynne Finn, assistant director of Facilities and Services, was unavailable for comment, but Miller said the Sierra Club does plan to closely consider costs once it is past the discussion stage.
“That will come up when we start to figure out a different plan,” Miller said. “We’re not by any means rolling in money. We acknowledge that.”
Kim Teplitzky, national coal campaign coordinator for the Sierra Club, said, “coal is actually very expensive.” She said that some coal plants are 80 years old, and they require expensive updates. She also said that the health effects of a coal plant on campus have the possibility of costing students money.
“(Universities) are paying for it one way or another,” Teplitzky said.
Miller said there are a number of alternatives to coal, from natural gas to wind power to biomass.
“Coal is an outdated form of energy production,” Miller said. “There are just so many other options that we have right now, so it’s kind of embarrassing.”
Cornell’s plan involves using natural gas to generate electricity, and Bell State is going to build a geothermal heating system.
“It (was) really the student efforts at Cornell that made the difference,” Teplitzky said. “This issue isn’t going away. It’s such an important issue for young people, and we fully expect to see that continue to grow.”