Long-term outlook needed with coal

Letter to Editor by Curt Liska

During a recent interview I conducted, a claim was made that burning coal was the “right thing to do” for UK — a conclusion based solely on bottom line costs.

While the economics of renewable energy is an important factor to UK moving beyond coal, basing decisions entirely upon bottom line costs is apathetic to the context of the situation.

The context asserts burning coal is not only bad for our environment, but also for the health of our community. Respiratory diseases, autism and even deaths have been correlated to the air pollution from burning coal. Due to the high levels of mercury released into the environment, every stream in Kentucky has a fish consumption advisory warning.

But, if people insist on talking “bottom line,” let’s do so. Currently, UK’s heating and cooling bill burns a $50 million hole into the university’s budget, annually.

The environment around emissions regulations is one that is in considerable flux. If change looms on the horizon we may see increased emissions regulations, resulting in the need for UK to update their two coal-fired power plants that were grandfathered in under the Clean Air Act of 1976.

Estimates on bag houses alone average $20 million, which may not even solve the problem. If scrubbers need to be added as well, then we could see another $20 million price tag. And guess who will bear the brunt of these costs? However, there are ways around this.

Examples of renewable energy projects include Ball State’s geothermal project — one of the largest of its kind — that will heat and cool 40 buildings across 300 acres. The project, partly funded by the Department of Energy, includes a price tag of $70 million.

This will reduce Ball State’s emissions by 50 percent and eliminate the need of one coal fired power plant. The return on investment will exceed the initial investment after three years of full operation.

When considering bottom line costs, more than current financial aspects need to be included in the decision making process. UK’s coal-fired power plants are endangering the health of our community, while ensuring that tuition rates remain high for future students as the costs of burning coal continues to rise.

In the long run, moving UK beyond coal toward renewable energy sources is not only frugal for our future, but also ethically laudable.

Curt Liska

communications senior