Advocating for coal

Maggie Mchugh serves up drinks on Sept. 4 at the grand reopening of Buster’s on Manchester Street. Photo by Zach Brake

By Jennifer Parli

The use of coal at UK has sparked numerous protests, debates and discussion. While many seek to eliminate coal as a fuel source completely from the university, others hold firm that coal is still the best choice for Kentucky.

Chairman of the Department of Mining Engineering Rick Honaker said UK is taking every opportunity to use natural resources for its various needs around campus. Honaker said UK has been trying to provide the lowest possible cost of energy over the last few years.

UK uses stoker coal, which is the highest quality of coal, and is extracted from the mines of southeastern Kentucky. Stoker coal is also a coarse grain coal, which means it doesn’t emit any particles into the atmosphere and is also easily handled.

Coal and gas are both used to make steam that heats buildings, water and various other uses. UK’s steam is produced by burning coal, gas and sometimes  No. 2 fuel oil in boilers.

According to documents from UK, normally around 80 percent of steam is coal produced and 20 percent is gas produced. Last year 60 percent of steam came from coal and 40 percent gas.

Honaker said he doesn’t see any negative aspects of the coal. He said he simply supports whatever source is the best use of time and money.

“I support the use of the most efficient and inexpensive process of generating electricity, if that is coal and I believe it is,” Honaker said.

The cheapest electrical production is located in Midwest of the country, which includes Kentucky, he said. Because of coal, Kentucky can offer electricity at lower rates than other states.

“Kentucky provides the third-lowest energy cost electric rates in the country,” Honaker said.

Some students support the use of coal on campus and around the state. Undeclared sophomore Kyle Ostrander said it makes sense for UK to use this resource to support its energy needs.

“I think we should be careful about what we do but I don’t think we use too much coal or anything really,” Ostrander said. “Kentucky has the most coal out of the states of the nation. We would be foolish to not take advantage of our resources and to try overcompensate with other resources that we do not have.”

According to the Natural Resource Partners Web site, some of the advantages of coal usage include its affordability, efficiency, abundance, and the fact that the prices of coal in past have remained relatively stable. The U.S. leads the world in cheapest source of electricity.

The NRP also reports that each person in the U.S. uses “about 20 lbs of coal per day in the form of electricity.”

Honaker said UK started to use more natural gas because of its cheaper price with the current status of the economy, but said they switch back and forth. Honaker said he isn’t opposed to finding ways to be more environmentally efficient on campus.

“I’m certainly open to working with people that are opposed to coal,” Honaker said.  “Let’s make a clear picture, rather than having it fuzzy.

“If there is a problem, let’s try to solve the problem and not get rid of it.”