UPDATE: The claim that Binghamton University maintains its use of coal burning in its power plant is factually incorrect, according to Karen Fennie, Physical Facilities communications specialist. Fennie said that the University stopped burning coal in its power plant as of April 2016, and currently burns a combination of natural gas and wood chips. Pipe Dream regrets the error.
Another abnormally warm fall in the Binghamton area is coming to an end. The lingering trauma of this extended summer hasn’t been lost on me, either. Climate change is evident in both the extended growing season and an almost complete abbreviation of fall, as we have seemingly gone straight from summer into winter. However, what has disturbed me more than the weather itself were the glib responses to it I’d overhear extolling how warm or sunny it was for October — unseasonable warmth is something to be enjoyed, apparently, instead of dreaded.
With this in mind, I was horrified to learn that our campus has its own power plant on the edge of campus that is mainly powered by coal. Coal is, by far, the most pollution-intensive fossil fuel. It is unacceptable that Binghamton University, a leader in academic prestige and institutional clout, is still home to a power plant that spews noxious pollution, thus contributing to climate change.
With each warm spell there seems to be an accompanying disaster around the world and at home. Climate change is rapidly transforming from an abstract phenomenon into something that is affecting all of us through changes to our livelihoods, mental health and even mundane experience of the weather.
BU students protested the coal plant in 2009; however, the administration then said natural gas was too expensive to compete with coal. This is no longer the case. Over half of the U.S. fleet of coal power has been retired since 2008, and despite the rescinding of President Donald Trump’s Clean Power Plan, economics, as well as ideology, have not slowed that pace since the 2016 election. There is no reason BU cannot switch entirely to natural gas, solar, wind or hydropower.
When necessary, battery storage in the form of lithium-ion batteries can be introduced to improve the efficiency of power distribution. With batteries, excess energy produced is stored and can be released into the campus grid during peak demand rather than having to burn more coal. The plummeting price of renewable energy and the moral imperative of fighting climate change make this decision an obvious one.
As the self-proclaimed premier public university, a move by BU toward more than just natural gas could be a milestone in New York’s transition to clean energy. The institutional and historical ramifications of such a gesture would be massive. At this point, it is much less of an ordeal to make the switch than it would have been 10 years ago.
We must fight the apathy regarding climate change, with both physical strides in clean technology and mentally, with a change of consciousness that isn’t overjoyed at the idea of a fifth month of summer.
Alec Weinstein is a senior majoring in English.
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