Aging UK coal boilers holding campus back

Per a recent study on campus, two-thirds of you are not aware that UK still operates four coal-powered boilers in two locations on campus, and even fewer are aware just how antiquated they are.  Even for coal boilers, these things are dinosaurs — they were up and running before the Clean Air Act and were grandfathered in under EPA regulations, meaning that the emissions deemed unacceptable for other power plants are still allowed on campus.

The fact that the university still relies on such outdated technology is nothing short of ridiculous, and it’s past time we recognized the harmful effects this situation has for our campus, community and environment.  A phenomenal new report from Dr. Shannon Bell’s sociology class details some of the harmful effects of these coal-fired power plants: soot collected from on-campus parking garages was found to contain arsenic, cadmium, cobalt and other carcinogens.  Needless to say, this is not good.

While Kentucky is certainly a coal state (one need look no farther than the Wildcat Coal Lodge for proof of coal’s influence on our university), this historical legacy hardly precludes the need for modern-day solutions.  The report suggests a number of steps that the university can take right away to begin addressing these issues, including signing a nationwide pledge to commit to more environmentally friendly policies (which almost 700 other universities have already done) and conducting feasibility studies to look at both alternative energy solutions and funding sources to make them happen.

It’s obviously unrealistic to think that the boilers could be switched off tomorrow, and no one is asking for that.  But the process of finding alternative means for heating our homes and powering our campus is certainly a challenge we’re capable of meeting.  Many schools in our region have already committed to substantially reducing their environmental impact and are leading the move toward a truly sustainable energy future.  The University of Louisville has committed to reach climate neutrality by 2050 and already has stopped burning coal on campus.  Ball State has found affordable ways to introduce geothermal power on campus, substantially reducing their energy consumption.  If UK truly aspires to be a top-flight academic institution, how can we go on ignoring such a fundamental part of our world’s future when other schools in our region have proven that such solutions do exist?

The continued operation of these coal-fired boilers is antithetical to the nature of this university’s mission, which is supposed to be home to some of the brightest minds and most creative thinkers in the state.  Given the overwhelming evidence against coal — the destruction of mountains, the rise of global temperatures, the release of these toxins into our environment — it’s beyond time we begin to consider the alternatives.