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IU “Working Toward” Carbon Neutrality Without Clear Roadmap

Part four of a five part series

PREVIOUSLY: Part I, Part II, and Part III

NEXT: Part V

The latest draft of the Campus Master Plan outlines the steady progress IU could take to become largely carbon neutral – taking as much carbon out of the atmosphere as it puts in — by the year 2050.

“It’s an abstract date. It was a suggestion. And nobody’s bought into that,” said Jeff Kaden, university engineer. He is on the Master Plan working group.

“The administration has not said we fully understand and agree and follow the guidelines of the timelines for climate neutrality. That hasn’t happened. And I don’t know if it will,” Kaden said.

IU’s master plan calls for a move toward climate neutrality, but not its actual achievement. Moving toward the goal is something IU has technically already started. Achieving neutrality though, is another story.

Kaden says the university is counting on developments in clean energy that will allow the school to reach its goal. But until those affordable, new clean energy methods are invented and thoroughly tested first, Kaden and other IU officials admit the school won’t reach carbon neutrality.

“There’s going to be some technology changes that will occur that we can’t predict today. We’re not going to be guinea pigs. We’re not going to be the first on the block to use a technology that’s not proven,” Kaden said.

“I guess we all cross our fingers and hope that someone comes up with something smart. That helps us adjust or helps us deal with these problems,” said Mark Menefee, assistant director of utilities

“We’re inventing ourselves as we go along,” Sustainability Director Bill Brown said.

“We don’t know what we don’t know yet,” IU Vice President Tom Morrison said.

“I just don’t see that there’s an answer. It’s almost at a stage where we don’t have much choice. May the most clever and efficient and cleanest technology prevail,” said Center for Research in Energy and the Environment Director J.C. Randolf.

A handful of changes

The university has initiated a handful of changes that, if followed, will reduce the campus’s emissions.

For instance, IU’s trustees will vote this summer on whether to allocate funds to pay for what the state calls “qualified energy savings projects”. Those aim to reduce inefficiencies by replacing lights and piping, as well as updating infrastructure in 23 campus buildings. IU will then use savings from these changes to pay down the debt incurred in making them.

Tom Morrison says IU is also seeking firms to put together an integrated energy master plan, which would provide specifics for how IU can become more environmentally friendly. But turning these plans into action and reducing emissions will take time, patience and money.

Coal Free IU President Lauren Kastner says she appreciates the efforts of IU administration but…

“We want to make sure that it’s not some ridiculous 50 or 60 year plan. If it’s not done properly or efficiently or cost effectively, we not going to support that,” she said.

Apart from figuring out how to heat the campus without coal, there’s still the issue of IU’s use of electricity. Currently that’s 280 million kilowatt hours annually – about enough to power to run 800-thousand 40-watt light bulbs continuously for a year.  And in Indiana, 96 percent of electricity is generated by burning coal.

Despite the time and cash it would take for IU switch to cleaner fuels, Kastner argues it’s wisest to make these changes as soon as possible to avoid scrambling later to avoid growing environmental and monetary costs, especially if the price of coal spikes because of carbon taxing and/or cap-and-trade legislation.

But Jeff Kaden thinks that’s not likely to happen.

“The bottom line is, until we’re required to do it legislatively or economically, we’re probably not going to do it any time soon,” Kaden said.

On Friday, we’ll end this series by going back in IU’s coal plant to look at the school’s latest efforts to inch toward lower emissions there. And to wrap things up, a view of how IU is a microcosm of the energy challenges states, countries and the entire planet will face decades – and maybe even centuries – into the future.


PREVIOUSLY: Part I, Part II, and Part III

NEXT: Part V

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