Thinking Outside the Box

Suppose Penn State’s Board of Trustees changed the academic year from September though May, to March through November.

  1. It would be a very clear sign that the Board fully understands the broad, deep impacts of declining access to affordable fossil fuels, economic contraction, and climate change; that these triple crises require a significant reordering of cultural priorities and social habits; and that Penn State is prepared to lead the way for land grant universities across the country.
  2. Heat and water to all the residential dormitories could be shut off during the peak-load steam heating months of December, January and February, reducing energy demand and consumption, and reducing utility costs.
  3. With some planning, faculty and staff offices could be consolidated to permit heat and water shutoff to a significant portion of academic buildings during December, January and February, reducing energy demand and consumption, and reducing utility costs.
  4. Students would be on campus during the peak growing season to eat local vegetables, fruits and grains (and year-round foods like dairy products, eggs and meat), providing a consumer base for Residential Dining Services to plan crops with local farmers and purchase local crops in significant amounts.
  5. Students would be readily available during the peak local growing season to do part-time work on area farms, increasing the farms’ productivity and providing students – particularly in the College of Agriculture – with excellent hands-on learning opportunities.
  6. Students would be readily available during the peak local growing season to do part-time work preserving fresh harvested produce for winter consumption on campus, increasing university resiliency.

Energy Conservation Policy Advisory Committee Update

Thank you to Rob Cooper at OPP for sending along a response to my email to Steve Maruszewski regarding the Energy Conservation Policy Advisory Committee created by AD64 (2.11.14 Cooper Email to Watt)

The Committee last met in July 2013.

Committee members include:

  • Ford Stryker (Chair) – Associate Vice President, Office of Physical Plant
  • Phillip Burlingame – Student Affairs
  • Conal Carr – Housing & Food Services
  • Rob Cooper – Office of Physical Plant
  • Bill Easterling – Academic Colleges
  • Erik Foley – Sustainability Institute
  • Neal Sharkey – Research Community
  • Janda Hankinson – Information Technology
  • Gary Keefer – Commonwealth Campuses
  • Roger Egolf – Faculty
  • Lindsey Hannon – Student
  • Samantha Devries – Student

Matt Walker at Clear Air Council – Comments on West Campus Steam Plant Project Delivered at October 30, 2013 Public Hearing

On January 25, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection published Penn State’s plan to build two natural gas-fired boilers as well to convert two old coal boilers to natural gas. 

My name is Matt Walker and I am the Outreach Director for Clean Air Council, a member-supported Pennsylvania environmental-health organization. I am here to support and echo the voices of many area residents, some who are members of the Clean Air Council, who are advocating for Penn State to transition to a renewable energy future right now. Not only did Penn State perform questionable math to avoid more stringent regulation, but they have not yet completed a full analysis to determine the best and cheapest energy sources to use on campus.

The Council is concerned that Penn state may be attempting to split their upgrades into smaller pieces in order to avoid New Source Review (NSR).  Planners have discussed a second Combined Heat and Power (CHP) unit as part of the West Campus upgrades, yet this equipment is not included in the application. Is this CHP part of the overall project? If it is, this unit should be addressed today in this permit with all associated emissions increases to determine whether or not the project triggers NSR, which would require more stringent emissions limitations and monitoring. The law requires an applicant to present a project as it is in existence. Otherwise, this process would be considered sham permitting.

The Council requests that Penn State and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) clarify whether or not the uncontrolled Potential to Emit (PTE) figures for particulate matter are less than 100 tons per year. Pre-control potential to emit of less than 100 tons per year of PM is what is required to avoid Compliance Assurance Monitoring (CAM).[1] CAM would require additional monitoring and inspections to correct any deviations in performance requirements.[2]   The Council requests a thorough analysis of whether CAM should apply to the proposed project. If CAM does apply, Penn State should have submitted a plan with their renewal application, and their permit shield should not have been extended.

In addition to these attempts to skirt new and existing regulations, Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant (OPP) has not fully considered the benefits of investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency nor have they recognized the full costs of a decision to use natural gas. OPP claims it has assessed the use of renewable energy sources within the last five years and decided against using them since the central heating system uses steam and not electricity. With the amount of money proposed to be invested in this project, this reasoning is short-sighted. If Penn State wants to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next several decades, it will need to transition away from using steam and away from using fossil fuels.

Natural gas is mostly methane and is 105 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over twenty years. The gas industry is the largest human-made source of methane emissions globally.Recent research in one Utah gas field found that an amazing 9% of the total gas production leaks. 

A recent Stanford University report found that natural gas has very little impact on carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions, especially after 2020. While in the short term, there will be reductions in carbon and other emissions, in the future, these reductions will be less apparent as gas displaces renewable energy that might have been used otherwise.

It is hopeful that OPP recently analyzed a Penn State Renewable Energy Plan proposal written by…Michael Rybacki.  The plan claims that by using geothermal heat pumps and some photovoltaic solar energy, the University could save over $272 million and prevent more than 4.6 billion lbs of air pollution from being emitted over 30 years.

The Clean Air Council urges decision-makers the OPP to use this document as a basis for completing their own voluntary alternatives analysis to determine the feasibility and cost savings of using a combination of additional energy efficiency measures and renewable energy in the form of geo-thermal and solar. Penn State’s past investments in energy efficiency have led to a 10% decrease in energy usage over the past 10 years even while adding new buildings. While an impressive start, there are more aggressive efficiency measures that could be deployed to further decrease energy consumption. For instance, the University of Maryland is investing in a 15-year project to reduce consumption by 22% and save $1.7 million in avoided energy costs.

OPP should pause on their plans to convert to natural gas, and should first release any already completed analyses of renewable energy to the public, and then perform a full alternatives analysis for public review before making any decisions. Penn State must factor in avoided healthcare costs when performing cost-benefit analysis of different alternative energy sources. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has good figures for avoided costs through data about emergency room visits, hospital admissions, and premature death.

This power plant will emit 1,268 tons per year of smog-forming pollutants, including mostly nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter. Ground-level ozone (or smog) has been linked with many respiratory diseases, cancer, stroke and premature death [3]. VOCs are known carcinogens and have been linked to devastating neurological and developmental issues, brain damage, and liver and kidney damage. The avoided costs from health impacts make the economics of choosing renewable energy and efficiency to replace coal at Penn State even more apparent.

It is the responsibility of the Office of Physical Plants to take the comments you receive tonight seriously. An overwhelming amount of local voices asking you to save money and invest in a clean renewable energy future means that you need to stop and take another look at the alternatives.

  • [1] 40 CFR § 64.2
  • [2] See EPA CAM
  • [3] American Lung Association, “Health Effects of Ozone and Particle Pollution,” State of the Air, 2011; President’s Cancer Panel, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now, 2008-2009 Annual Report (National Cancer Institute, May 2010).
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