Club wants to curb coal



By Tilly Finley

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or perhaps a mine, it is no secret that a hot coal debate is in the works on UK’s campus. Despite a long tradition of coal dependency at UK, one student organization is looking to turn the tide.

UK Beyond Coal is pushing harder than ever for the university to make the transition to 100 percent alternative renewable energy sources by the year 2015.

UK owns and relies on two coal plants, which are permitted to burn 47,250 tons of coal per year, according to UK’s Physical Plant Division. UK’s campus and medical complexes are both 80 percent dependent on coal and plan to increase usage to power the new medical complexes.

Becca Barhorst, a political science freshman and the event planning coordinator for UK Beyond Coal, said choosing to use alternative energy sources on UK’s campus would be good for our health, our planet and for Kentucky.

“UK needs to take advantage of the opportunity to lead the rest of the state in the clean and renewable energy future, Barhorst said. “There are incredible benefits in moving towards renewable energy, it will improve health quality for all Kentuckians and create enormous job potential in the renewable energy industry.”

UK Beyond Coal students believe 2015 is a feasible date for the university to make the transition to renewable energy sources.

Other universities, such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ball State University and Cornell University, have already begun the transition from coal to renewable sources, said Curt Liska, a recent UK graduate and UK Beyond Coal research intern.

“In particular, Cornell will be coal-free by 2011. 2015 is a reasonable timetable because it allows for the identification of the best renewable energy solutions for central Kentucky and it allows time for implementation of these technologies,” Liska said.

UK Beyond Coal students also want to raise awareness about other negative aspects of coal, such as the poverty in Kentucky’s Appalachian region.

“In the last generation, 60 percent of coal mining jobs in Eastern Kentucky were lost,” Barhorst said. “These coal industries are exploiting our workers by using their labor for a short period of time and then pulling out when the region’s coal has been mined, leaving the communities impoverished and unemployed. The coal industry is not helping Kentucky, it is stealing from the state.”

The Sierra Club started the national Beyond Coal campaign in 2005 in response to an initiative to build 150 new coal plants across the United States, Barhorst said.

The campaign was able to stop 112 of the original 150 coal-fired power plants from becoming a reality, and it hopes to experience similar success at UK.

UK Beyond Coal has had about 1,000 students express interest and support to show  UK President Lee Todd that   students want to see UK make the renewable energy transition, Barhorst said.