NASA climatologist makes pitch against coal

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Fri, 05/07/2010 - 12:57.
Staff Writer - the Daily Tar Heel

A group of clean energy activists braved the cold rain Tuesday to hear a leading climatologist make his case against coal.

Speaking in front of UNC’s Cogeneration Facility, a power plant a half-mile from campus that burns coal and natural gas, Columbia University professor James Hansen challenged all universities to eliminate coal use and push for clean energy.

“I am very heartened by two things: young people really standing up and asking for a solution to this problem, and the University responding with a task force,” said Hansen, who also is head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The speech came the week after a new Energy Task Force, which will look into the cogeneration plant and campus energy as a whole, was announced.

Hansen came to UNC to speak as part of the Sierra Club’s Campuses Beyond Coal campaign, a group fighting to end coal use at UNC.

“We want to get a commitment from the University to end the use of coal,” said Laura Stevens, organizer of the Sierra Club’s Campuses Beyond Coal Campaign at UNC. “Then we’re open to research.”

Stevens said she was confident the new task force will find options for cleaner energy sources.

The cogeneration plant, located on Cameron Avenue, produces roughly 25 percent to 30 percent of all electricity used at UNC and the hospitals.

Ray DuBose, UNC’s director of energy services, has said previously that the University is looking to shift from coal and natural gas to biomass fuel, but that maintaining the plant’s reliability is key to the campus and hospitals.

Hansen said he hopes to see the fight for sustainable energy sources take hold at more campuses.

“Universities should really be taking the lead and educating the public about coal,” he said. “The science makes it clear that we cannot continue to burn fossil fuel.”

Stevens said the campaign is working with about 50 other universities across the country to eliminate coal from their campuses.

Duke University, working independently of that campaign, reduced its coal consumption by 70 percent last year, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison plans to replace its five boilers with a mixture of biomass and natural gas by 2012.

The coal-free campaign has asked UNC to commit to stop burning coal by 2015.

Hansen said it is crucial that coal emissions be phased out by 2030 in order to prevent the worst effects of climate change. The use of coal also poses a danger to public health, Hansen continued, and is detrimental to the areas where it is mined.

Hansen said he is happy to see the University responding to the issue of coal usage, but that more must be done to eliminate it on a larger scale.

“Coal is the dirtiest fuel on the planet,” he said. “We have to phase it out globally.”

Contact the University Editor at udesk [at] unc [dot] edu.