Coal is outdated: Let’s protect our air quality


Kernel Opinion SIG

Miranda Campbell

Many students who attend UK are unaware about the school’s energy usage and the source of its power, but it’s something we should all pay attention to.  

According to UK’s website, “the primary use of energy is to provide comfortable and effective environments for learning, research and healthcare.” It explains that the electricity comes from private utilities and “on-campus combustion of natural gas and coal,” which are used to heat buildings, cook and produce hot water. 

The amount of energy and power that an entire campus requires is an immense footprint and a significant amount in the annual budget. Worst of all, it is produced by burning fossil fuels that lead to more than 80 percent of campus greenhouse gas emissions. 

When I was given a tour by an Omni architect, I asked him on a scale of one to 10 how sustainable the newly built Gatton Student Center was. He replied, “Probably a 7 out of 10; the building is powered by a coal plant.”

Lexington is surrounded by three counties that each have coal-fired power plants. Two plants belong to Ghent Generating Station LG&E and KU. Located on the Ohio River northeast of Carrollton, Kentucky, the Ghent Generating Station is Kentucky Utilities Company’s largest coal-fired power plant. The other coal-powered plant is East Kentucky Power Cooperative. 

The effects of having these coal-fired plants near the city infects the air with hazardous pollutants and leads to a wide range of health effects, including heart and lung diseases. When one is exposed to these air pollutants it can damage the brain, eyes, skin, and airway passages which negatively affects breathing. Those negative effects are not only impacting humans but also animals and wildlife and plants and pollinators that live in the environment. Pollutants causing smog and acid rain are found in the air and affect the climate while contributing to global warming. 

So far, there are only several small-scale renewable energy projects on campus. These include solar photovoltaic systems on the Davis Marksbury and Ralph G. Anderson Buildings; a solar thermal system at the Poundstone Regulatory Service Building; and a ground source geothermal system providing heating and cooling for Donovan and Johnson Halls. 

We should all be concerned about air quality. The smog that is created cause asthma attacks. One in 10 kids have asthma in the U.S. and it is the number one reason that kids miss school due to illness. I am one of those one in 10. 

The pollution from burning coal leads to 12,000 emergency room visits and more 100,000,000 billion dollars in health cost a year. Toxic mercury from the coal pollution damages the nervous system and is especially dangerous for babies and young kids because it can cause developmental problems. That same mercury rains into our lakes and oceans and contaminates our fish and seafood.

Coal is making us sick and it’s time to make this toxic outdated energy source history. Let’s create a clean energy future for our planet, country, campus and kids.