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A coal-burning power plant has been a fact of UNC’s life since the 1890s, and coal is responsible for about half of the carbon dioxide the University sends into the atmosphere. As the new green movement begins to take hold, coal is starting to get a skeptical eye in Chapel Hill.
A new energy task force will study Carolina’s carbon reduction plans and review what other universities are doing, Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 told the trustees in January.
The group — including faculty, staff and students, a trustee and environmental activists — will be led by Tim Toben ’81, chair of the N.C. Energy Policy Council. Toben also is chair of the UNC Institute for the Environment’s board of visitors.
Over the next six to 12 months, the group plans to study the University’s efforts and evaluate the approaches being used on other campuses to encourage sustainability. The goal is to develop the most practicable plan for reducing Carolina’s carbon footprint.
A week after the trustees’ meeting, the Columbia University professor and NASA scientist James Hansen came to Chapel Hill to challenge UNC and other universities to eliminate the use of coal. Hansen, who was sponsored by the Sierra Club, was joined at UNC’s massive cogeneration plant at the west end of Cameron Avenue by clean energy activists. That same week, The Daily Tar Heel began editorializing in favor of the University converting from coal to other sources.
A newer steam-generating plant on the campus is powered by natural gas.
Toben said he expects the task force to evaluate the University’s plans and trajectory for becoming carbon-free by 2050, to recommend practical and cost-effective improvements in the carbon reduction plan, and to examine the campus’ cogeneration plant in the context of state energy policy to ascertain whether the current and forecast fuel mix is optimum.