UNC to Stop Burning Coal: First Victory for Sierra Club Campaign

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As far as college towns go, Chapel Hill in North Carolina has a fair few things going for it. From being the birthplace of crop mob, through free buses, to the admittedly controversial Greenbridge high-end eco-condos, there are plenty of folks in this town who are pushing innovative models for more sustainable communities. So it's always felt funny to me that slap-bang in the middle of town is a coal powered co-generation plant belonging to the University. But come 2020, that will no longer be a problem.

Earlier this week the University of North Carolina, accompanied by the Sierra Club and the North Carolina Energy Policy Council, made the announcement that it will begin phasing out coal burning from its plant, with the ultimate goal of being completely coal free by 2020.

According to the Carrboro Citizen, the phase out of coal at UNC's powerplant is going to be a gradual one. Tests will begin this spring co-firing wood pellets with coal, gradually increasing the ratio of woody biomass to coal, with a complete phaseout planned for 2020:

"The conversion to wood pellets won't happen overnight and won't happen strictly within the confines of the Cameron Avenue plant. Ray Dubose, director of the university's energy services, said in addition to major technical concerns, such as the effect of the new fuel on the furnace, there is as yet no established supply for the fuel.

The energy task force did hear from possible suppliers setting up in Virginia, but finding a source of fuel is one of the biggest unknowns about the conversion to biomass. The university also is entering the market as energy suppliers around the state are contemplating similar moves, Dubose said, making it difficult to estimate costs. For now, the goal is to use biomass for 20 percent of fuel consumption at the plant within two to five years."

This is being hailed as a significant first victory in the Sierra Club's campaign to get 58 universities nationwide to stop using coal as a fuel. You've got to start somewhere.

Tags: Activism | Biofuels | North Carolina | Renewable Energy | United States

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