Illinois has a lot of coal resources. In fact, the state has more thermal units than Saudi Arabia and Kuwait's oil reserves combined. It lies across 37,000 miles beneath the state -- about 68 percent of the Land of Lincoln
. The majority of this coal goes to the growing demand for electricity. After all, we do need a place to charge our PCs and iPods. Coal will be around to fuel our technological desires for a long time to come, but the question remains, is it the most efficient form of energy? The answer is "no."
"Coal is the most carbon intensive energy source we use," said Anthony Larson, senior and president of Students for Environmental Concerns. But we continue to run on it, especially around here. "Coal is the most practical form of energy because it's easily accessible. There is no doubt it will be around for many, many decades," said Zak Lesemi, Illinois State Geological Survey Earth Resource director.
The university has a power plant that runs on coal. This year alone, it increased its coal use by 15 percent.
"We only saved about two to three percent of carbon, but the coal we are emitting has some of the cleanest fumes in the country," said Larson.
In the early 1990s the Students for Environmental Concerns launched a program for more efficient coal. The students invested in scrubbers; the device filters the air coming through the smoke stacks.
"The plant only runs on clean coal. There still is the problem of carbon dioxide, but the system scrubs other harmful emissions away," said Lesemi.
In addition to powering campus, there are coal mines close by, and throughout central and southern Illinois. Statewide there are approximately 5,500 underground coal mines. Our campus sources coal from lower income regions in southern Illinois.
"It's a two-sided coin. Coal is a carbon energy source that's unacceptable, but by using it, we are supporting lower income communities. We'd be taking out the principal industry of income for many families if we didn't run on coal," said Larson.
The effectiveness of coal won't change anytime soon, especially after the wind turbine project on campus failed.
This year the university decreased its energy usage by 10 percent, and is looking at other resources for energy power. In 2002 it thought the problem would be solved. Through numerous grants provided by donors and energy corporations, the university was going to spend $5 million on three wind turbines. However, the project got pushed aside, and in 2007, five years later, when alternative energy became a hot topic, the wind turbines almost tripled in price.
"We couldn't afford all three, but some students and faculty were still pushing to buy one wind turbine. But it was bad timing, and we didn't have the support from the Chancellor or the student senate," said Larson.
Although the project didn't pan out, Larson and other students are still optimistic for alternative energy.
"We are working on increasing the university green fee. We want to raise awareness and spend money on issues like the turbine project," he said.
Until alternative energy sources find a way on our campus, we're sticking to coal.
"A lot of people are starting greener initiatives, but right now coal is what we have, so we'll use it," said Lesemi.