This was published on the Lansing City Pulse’s website on September 9, 2011.
by Nicole LaChance
Friday, Sept. 9 — As the number of students attending MSU increases, so does the demand for resources like food, housing and electricity. Now the university must decide how to power it all.
According to recent figures, the electrical needs of MSU’s main campus will far exceed the capacity of power produced by the on-campus T.B. Simon Power Plant by 2023, said Lauren Olson, who works for MSU’s Office of Campus Sustainability. Olson spoke at the Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council’s Land Use Lunch today about MSU’s energy transition from non-renewable energy sources to renewable energy sources. The university hopes to start implementing the switch by 2014 with the goal of reducing energy use by 65 percent by 2040.
MSU officials have several reasons to rethink the way the university is powered. Investing in green technologies and initiatives has been a priority of the university for years, Olson said. She also cited the recent bad press the school has received from the student-led Beyond Coal campaign as a reason to ramp up the transition.
One of the most important factors in the transition is cost. MSU has seen the demand for power rise as students bring more electronics to dorms and professors invest in new research technology, Olson said. The increased demand partnered with the rising cost of energy and the decreasing amount of state aid has hit the university’s budget hard, so transitioning to more renewable methods makes fiscal sense.
“We would like to use the energy savings for other things, such as bringing down tuition,” Olson said. The savings could also be used to fill the gap left by reduced state appropriations, she added.
While no official plan has been finalized, Olson said the university is considering many options. Initially replacing coal with natural gas is an attractive option since MSU already uses some natural gas. They are also working on agriculture-based renewable technologies, such as using manure for power, Olson said.
Wind and solar power have also been considered, but options are limited because of East Lansing’s cloudy, fairly un-windy climate. However, a professor recently suggested building a 100-meter tall windmill, Olson said. The university hopes to test out the possibility of this option in the fall. Officials have also considered building windmills at MSU satellite sites near the lakeshore and diverting the power to East Lansing, Olson said.
The Office of Campus Sustainability is also focusing on the more immediate method of conserving the energy used by students and staff. The office sends commissions to reassess and streamline the energy use of older buildings on campus. Commission repairs in the Erickson building, for example, brought down energy use by over 30 percent, Olson said. In addition, the university is teaching faculty how to best utilize energy, requiring the purchase of Energy Star options and scheduling classes in a way that condenses building use.
The final energy plan is being discussed by the Energy Transition Steering Committee, which is composed of MSU faculty and students, Olson said. Once the committee decides on a plan, it will be up to vote by the MSU Board of Trustees.
“It’s great that MSU is saving through such a thorough program,” said Liz Harlow, the Land Use Lunch coordinator. The lunches, which host speakers about various environmental initiatives, normally take place on the first Friday of every month.
Olson’s talk was a preview of a presentation she intends to give at upcoming town hall meetings about the transition. The first meeting will take place 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday in the Agriculture Hall atrium on campus and is open to everyone. Information about upcoming meetings and the transition can be found at energytransition.msu.edu.