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UNC Students Win Commitment to Phase Out Coal on Campus

Students at the University of North Carolina won a commitment from campus administrators to phase out the use of coal to generate power at the Chapel Hill campus by 2020. The student-led Coal-Free UNC campaign also pushed administrators to end the use of mountain-top removal coal as quickly as possible.

UNC’s campus is currently powered by a coal-fired co-generation plant, which efficiently heats and powers the university’s infrastructure. Last fall, after being approached by the Coal-Free UNC student group, school Chancellor Holden Thorpe appointed an Environmental Policy Task Force to find an alternative to coal-fired power.

There are coal cars pulling up on rail up to the plant and that’s not particularly good symbolism for a university that teaches people about climate change and the frontiers of energy research.

-UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp

Though the task force puts the coal deadline at May 1, 2020, an aspirational date of 2015 has been set as well.

Appalachian Voices’ Matt Wasson, who testified before the Energy Task Force on April 14th, clarified that the university was purchasing coal from mountaintop removal mines in Virginia, despite a claim on the university’s website to the contrary. Wasson declined to criticize the University for “unwittingly” using mountaintop removal coal and attributed the misunderstanding to the changing definition of the practice.

“Industry and state regulators have been running from the term ‘mountaintop removal’ in recent years,” said Wasson, “Defining mountaintop removal is a moving target.”

But Wasson also left no doubt about the University’s connections to mountaintop removal, using Google Earth to show task force members images of widespread destruction caused by the specific mines with which UNC currently has contracts.

Wasson also told the task force that eliminating the use of coal by 2015 was both reasonable and prudent.

“North Carolina’s utilities pay more for coal than any other utilities in the country, and that price is only going to go up as Central Appalachian coal supplies dwindle and environmentally devastating giveaways by the Bush Administration to the coal industry are reversed,” said Wasson. “Getting out ahead of these trends and moving to biomass or natural gas in the near-term would be a prudent move for the university.”

The next mission for the task force and student environmental groups is to decide on an alternative fuel for the plant and to find ways to reduce energy demand and increase efficiency on campus.





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