Many may remember the August 2008 black out that struck the northeast. To most, the blackout was a horrible thing. Looting, fires, and much more filled the air, but Mother Nature was taking a sigh of relief. During this blackout, there was a 90 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide, which leads to haze and acid rain, and 50 percent reduction in smog. These reductions cause visibility to increase by 20 miles due to the 70 percent drop in light-scattering particles.
Michigan State University boasts one of the 600 coal plants in the United States. Activists around the campus are wondering why the alleged "go green" campus is home to such a polluting power plant. Since being established in 1855, the campus of Michigan State was heated with wood fireplaces. A series of episodes of school houses burning down allowed for the building of a power plant in the 1890s as a source of heat. This source of heat has been cause for much money from the university, including a recent $27,000 penalty fee for emissions violations. The violations incorporated an improper blending of coal that resulted in excess sulfur dioxide emissions and burning wet coal that produced excess nitrogen oxide emissions.
According to its reports, in the first quarter of 2008 the power plant reported 7.58 percent excess sulfur dioxide emissions and 4.75 percent excess nitrogen oxide emissions. These are classified as "high priority violations" by the Environmental Protection Agency, and join 2007 violations of a lesser caliber that were resolved without monetary penalties.
A large group of these concerned students rallied together to create MSU Beyond Coal campaign. Launched in the spring of 2010, this group called for the transition of Michigan State University away from coal to 100% renewable energy sources. With over 100 volunteers from campus and the surrounding areas, this group is looking to the future for innovations that the university should be taking on. Karen Zelt, communications manager for the MSU Physical Plant, says that they would love to get off coal, but they just cannot afford it. Zelt also stated that the violations that the school was accused of were caused accidentally. "We had violations from our sulfur content because we'd purchased some bad coal from a vendor," said Zelt.
With Michigan State University's T.B. Simon Power Plant being a large coal plant with an average of 250,000 tons of coal being burned each year, it is no wonder activists are upset at the self-proclaimed, environmentally friendly campus. Added to this is the problem that some of the coal that is burned is obtained through mountain top removal mining methods in the Appalachian region. This method includes blowing off the tops of mountains in some of the poorest parts of the country for the collection of coal.
All in all, as many walk around the campus of Michigan State University it is not hard to find the smoke stacks of the coal plant looming about in the sky, but it is also not hard to find the countless number of volunteers who are working to convert the plant into a renewable energy source.
The question is: what renewable source and at what cost?