University of Iowa students approach Regents about coal use

Two University of Iowa students interested in ending coal use for energy at Iowa’s universities brought a small gathering of followers to sit in on the Iowa Board of Regents meeting today.

Working under the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign, the University of Iowa group leaders Zach Carter and Meredith Place approached Regents Greta Johnson and Katie Mulholland after today’s agenda came to a conclusion, handing out pamphlets to on the downfalls of coal and introducing themselves.

“The University of Iowa is leading the way for using renewable energy right now,” Carter, 27, said. “Iowa State and UNI currently have no set goals and would like the Regents to start pressuring them to begin to.”

The University of Iowa purchases four forms of energy: coal, electric power, natural gas, and biomass energy sources. By 2020 the goal is to provide 40 percent of  the institution’s total energy needs through using renewable resources.

Over the past decade, the University of Iowa has used biomass fuels to work towards obtaining that goal through implementing a Biomass Fuel Project initiative.

The biomass project began operating in 2003 and came about through a partnership with Quaker Oats in Cedar Rapids to buy oat hulls, or the outer shell of an oat grain, at half the price of coal to be used to create “green” energy and save money.

In the project’s inaugural year, the University reportedly displaced 11,511 tons of coal with oat hulls. By 2010 that amount grew to 15,206 tons, displacing 33,862 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions and saving approximately $800,000.

“The University of Iowa has done well, but I think the University could move beyond the 40 percent renewable energy goal,” Place said.

University of Iowa figures indicate that grid energy was obtained for the power at a cost of approximately $11.6 million, coal at $9 million and biomass at a cost of approximately $530,551 in 2010.

According to the University of Iowa power plant’s figures, the plant currently generates approximately 9 million kilowatt-hours of power from biomass, generating approximately 12 percent of the University’s total electrical power usage.

While the University of Iowa has reduced the amount of coal being burned for energy on an annual basis, 15,000-17,000 tons of coal ash continue to be disposed of at a private limestone quarry south of Waterloo, at a cost of $19.75 per ton, according to the University of Iowa Facilities Management website.

Carter and Place hope to continue growing their membership, which currently sits at 35, to help educate the public and Iowa’s university officials about the downfalls of coal and offer reasonable alternatives for obtaining energy. They hope to be an official part of a Regent’s meeting agenda by the end of fall.

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