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February 23, 2012

Purdue Students Turn Up the Heat for Renewable Energy

Delivering-comments

Student activists at Purdue University collected more than 1,000 public comments in less than two weeks, urging the university to move off coal and incorporate more renewable energy into the school's new Comprehensive Energy Master Plan. The university is in the midst of a public comment period regarding the plan, which was released in mid-January.

Above, students deliver the comments on Valentine's Day. Below, some of the 30 six-foot-tall windmills that students installed in the campus quad.

Purdue-windmills

"The Energy Master Plan outlines a gradual transition from coal to (mostly) natural gas while still maintaining a coal-fired boiler on campus," says Alexis Boxer, Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) organizer for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "Purdue needs to make a much stronger commitment to renewable energy."

Activists-and-Purdue-boiler

Beyond Coal activists partnered with the Student Government, who passed two pieces of legislation: one rejecting the new plan and calling for clean energy, and the other calling for a subcommittee made up of students and faculty who can set up and monitor strong benchmark goals for campus. The Student Senate passed the bills unanimously with support from the student body president.

Students held a press conference prior to a February 15 public meeting on the new energy plan. "Most of the people there were students," says Boxer, "which is great because the university rarely holds public meetings, two weeks ago nobody knew this was happening, and students don't usually attend public hearings on the same night as a big basketball game!" (Purdue defeated Big Ten rival Illinois 67-62.)

Each member of the public who wished to speak was given three minutes. "We had 15 speakers register and share their comments and every single one spoke in favor of clean energy," Boxer says.

Deepak-Jonnalegedda

As reported in the Louisville Journal-Courier, freshman Deepak Jonnalagedda, at right, told the panel of university officials he was "stunned to see such a great engineering school that is always on the forefront of things, like the space program with Neil Armstrong, not be at the forefront of clean energy."

Purdue faculty member Richard Johnson said he had hoped bold ideas would come out of the plan, but after reading it he found it lacking in innovation and sacrifice. "It should say that within 30 years, Purdue will use only sustainable carbon-neutral energy sources," he said. "That's what a vision looks like. That's what leadership looks like."

Boxer, pictured below at the SSC press conference, also spoke at the meeting, telling the panel that Purdue should take steps similar to the energy sustainability plan adopted by Ball State University, 100 miles to the east. "They're out-engineering you," Boxer said. "This work can be done and should be done, and students and faculty can be the ones to set Purdue on the right track."

Boxer-at-press-conference

Another community member mentioned that Ohio State University was also ahead of Purdue in moving toward clean energy.

Purdue's Comprehensive Energy Master Plan, released one year after the university cancelled plans to indefinitely extend coal burning at the school's on-campus Wade Utility Plant, calls for shutting down the 51-year-old coal boiler in the next six months, converting another coal boiler to natural gas, and adding a 5 million-gallon thermal energy storage tank for the campus.

Janice Ringler, president of the Sierra Student Coalition at Purdue, stressed her pride in the university and said she wanted more sustainable resources to be integrated into the master plan. “You can’t dismiss a renewable energy plan as not feasible to implement at Purdue,” she told the panel.

"The panel was made up of the highest-level folks who really needed to hear our message," says Boxer, "and that message came through—loud and clear!"

Learn more about the Sierra Student Coalition's Campuses Beyond Coal campaign.

Windmills-in-Purdue-quad

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