Penn State to Stop Burning Coal On Campus
Thanks to a concerted effort by the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) and the Sierra Club's Campuses Beyond Coal campaign, Pennsylvania State University announced on January 21 that it will convert its coal-fired steam plant to natural gas.
Above, student activists rally for clean air with the plant's smokestack as a backdrop. Below, Penn State SSC leader Rose Monahan addresses a student rally on campus.
"This is a big step toward getting Penn State to be a one hundred percent clean-energy campus," says national SSC organizer Kim Teplitzky.
Over the past year-and-a-half, students collected more than 2,000 petition signatures and photos, generated dozens of media hits, hosted rallies, built coalitions with faculty and alumni, and held several meetings with top administrators demanding that the university end its use of coal on campus.
The West College Steam Plant, built in 1929, consumes 7,500 tons of coal and pumps out 20,000 tons of carbon emissions annually while providing heat for 270 buildings. Starting next year, the university plans to spend between $25 million and $35 million to convert the plant to burn natural gas.
"Basically they had to either install scrubbers or switch to a cleaner form of energy," says Teplitzky. "It would have been ideal if they'd switched to a greener energy source like geothermal, wind, or solar, but under the circumstances we got the best outcome."
In 2009, in anticipation of stiffer federal regulations on carbon emissions, the Board of Trustees began considering its options. When students learned that the school was considering installing coal scrubbers to meet new regulations, the SSC convened a big rally on campus in conjunction with Pennsylvania Power Shift and marched on the university's administration building.
"The expense of adding scrubbers would have locked the school into coal dependence for years to come," says Teplitzky. Campuses Beyond Coal kept the pressure on, organizing more rallies, press conferences, and actions like collecting comment cards from students and mailing them en masse to the EPA.
In its January 21 announcement, the university says the switch to natural gas will lower carbon emissions by 37 percent—an important step toward their overall goal of reducing emissions to 17.5 percent below 2005 levels by next year.
Penn State's commitment makes it the ninth university to pledge to end coal use on campus since the SSC started the national effort to move our nation's universities entirely off coal-generated power.
All photos by Kim Teplitzky.