Sierra Club Student Coalition protests use of coal-fired energy on University of North Texas campus.

Walking the Walk

On April 1, about 40 students wearing "Beyond Coal" underwear marched across the University of North Texas (UNT) campus and delivered 100 letters to university President V. Lane Rawlins demanding a coal-free campus by 2015.

UNT, which was founded in 1890, is the fourth largest university in Texas with more than 36,000 students, according to the school's website.

During the rally, there was no tree climbing or handcuffs. The riskiest aspect of the rally was the students' clothing, or lack thereof.

Jeffrey McKee, an energy engineering student who participated in the awareness event, said, “This outdated 19th century energy system has no place on a college campus that wants to be a leader in new technologies. Why are we burning dirty fuels that cause asthma and mercury poisoning when we live in one of the most renewable energy-rich regions in the nation?”

Good point, McKee. According to a university spokesperson, UNT only has a choice of one provider: Denton Municipal Electric (DME) . This company actually purchases renewable energy from NextEra Energy Power Marketing, which owns and operates the Wolf Ridge Wind Farm located northwest of Muenster, Texas. The company's website also says that DME buys landfill gas-based energy to supplement its renewable portfolio.

The students are being led by the Sierra Club, which says that the coal-fired Gibbons Creek Steam Station provides power to UNT as well as the city. That source reportedly releases five times more mercury annually than the state of California. Didn't EPA just propose mercury standards on power plants? And hasn't the market delivered emission control technologies that can help meet that standard as well as others?

I wonder if McKee and his protest cohorts have investigated the environmental impacts of renewable energy options. It's great to get excited about a cause and walk around in your underwear. I mean that sincerely; I admire their enthusiasm. But I have found over time that nothing is as simple as it seems.

By the way, UNT is studying renewable power generation, smart grid transmission, and efficient buildings through its Renewable Energy and Conservation research cluster.

Posted by L.K. Williams, EPonline on Apr 06, 2011

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