MSU is powered by coal. The school's T.B. Simon Power Plant burns close to 250,000 tons of coal each year, making it the largest on-campus coal plant in the nation..
This use of coal, however, raises both environmental and health concerns. The mining of coal and disposal of coal ash cause pollution, while the emissions released by the burning of coal contribute to global warming and have been linked to asthma, heart disease, lung cancer, and strokes. Student activists want from MSU a timeline for ending its use of coal so that cleaner alternatives can be utilized on campus.
Several other Big Ten schools have already committed to finding clean energy solutions. The University of Illinois announced in May that it would stop the use of its coal-powered plants by 2017.
Although essentially all of the university's heat and electricity is still produced by the burning of coal, MSU has made efforts to adopt more sustainable practices. The school's Be Spartan Green initiative, which began almost three years ago, aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption by 15 percent by 2015.
The T.B. Simon Power Plant also burns small amounts of switchgrass and wood. The recently built MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center houses a solar array that provides 8 percent of its electricity. And a geothermal heating system will be included in the Bott Building for Nursing and Education and Research, which is now under construction.
MSU hopes to begin a planning process next year to make a transition to cleaner energy sources. The university has hired Black and Veatch Corp. to prepare a report on how that transition might be made.
Jennifer Battle, the assistant director of the Office of Campus Sustainability, told the Lansing State Journal that the university wants to avoid "being locked into something too early that's not going to be a viable technology in 20 or 30 years."