The University needs an energy policy that is both dynamic and aggressive to maximize the opportunities for eliminating its dependency on coal.
This means having the ability to adapt to changing technologies and being more aggressive in pursuing energy goals.
Persistent and periodic review should accompany the Climate Action Plan, the document that sets benchmarks for the University to be carbon-neutral by 2050. And where it can, the University should revise those benchmarks and accomplish its goals sooner.
More than costs
The benefits of weaning the University off coal go beyond reducing its own carbon footprint.
Eliminating the need for coal moves the University away from an industry that devastates the land of Appalachia and poses a public health risk to those who inhabit that region.
This is not a question of costs. By continuing to use coal, UNC is merely shifting the costs onto the environment and society at large. We all bear the cost of pollution and land degradation.
As the flagship university in the state and as a national leader in higher education, UNC needs to take the reins in alleviating the damage of coal.
The University’s energy policy should not just be adequate. It should be pioneering, and it should have the health of North Carolina — and the climate at large — at heart.
In a letter sent last November to the Coal-Free Campaign, Chancellor Holden Thorp wrongly resisted the idea of modifying the University’s energy goals and suggested that the campaign work with campuses “not as advanced as ours.”
Since then, however, some welcome progress has been made.
Thorp said he reconsidered the sentiment he initially expressed in the letter and chose to create the energy task force in January.
The task force is reviewing the goals in the Climate Action Plan and assessing where UNC could be more ambitious.
The scrutiny of the task force is welcome, but its mandate is only for six months to a year. Periodic review of the energy policy must be made permanent.
And assuming the task force finds opportunities for improvement, real steps should be taken to achieve it.
Overtures are welcome, but seeing is believing.
We know that coal pollutes our community and destroys the land in our state.
In minutes anyone with an Internet connection can see aerial views of the land degradation caused by coal mining.
Merely saying we will do better does nothing to alleviate this.
Action, not words
UNC has made a number of commitments, but more needs to be done to deliver on them.
A telling example is the University’s current failure to meet one of the “tangible actions” that its own obligation to the American College & University Presidents’ ClimateCommitment demands — purchasing or producing at least 15 percent of electricity from renewable sources within a year of joining the commitment.
Using biomass could accomplish this.
The University hopes to test different types of biomass material this year at its cogeneration facility, including wood pellets and torrified wood.
Testing the material will give the University a better understanding of the costs associated with using it, said Ray DuBose, UNC’s director of energy services.
But DuBose couldn’t say at what cost the University would still be willing to utilize this technology to offset its coal use.
Granted, these are difficult questions, but there is no better time than now to answer them, especially if we are going to begin testing biomass this year.
Making coal more efficient will simply not be enough. Forming a Climate Action Plan and an energy task force are only means to a tangible end of eliminating coal use.
The University going forward must rigorously review and revise its climate goals and plans. It must take real action to wean itself off of harmful and environmentally degrading energy.