ISU students petition for renewable energy


Photo: Bryan Besler/Iowa State D

Students gather outside Beardshear Hall to rally for independence from coal as a source of energy on Iowa State’s campus. The group also presented to Tahira Hira, executive assistant to the president, a petition of 2,500 signatures from students and staff supporting the rally.

Meg Grissom

Yesterday morning, a group of about 20 students stood on the steps of Beardshear Hall. Standing in a line, they held up a number of signs that spelled out “Pres Leath ISU welcomes you” and chanting phrases such as “hey, ho, dirty coal has got to go”. They then flipped their signs around and revealed a new message to their audience — “move us beyond coal.”

The “Beyond Coal” movement started on campus five years ago upon the discovery that Iowa State’s coal plant was dumping its fly ash into the Des Moines River. The goal of this movement is to work towards the full utilization of renewable energy resources and to eliminate the burning of coal on campus. Since last November, members of student organization ActivUs have been actively collecting signatures from students and faculty to jump start this process. Yesterday they hosted a press conference to present their petition, which consists of 2,500 signatures, to President Steven Leath and his administration.

The press conference began with the club acknowledging moving beyond coal will not be an easy task. But the purpose of this movement is not to see change over night.

Gavin Moore, co-president of ActivUs and senior in philosophy, said the organization wants university leaders to “start having real conversations” about moving away from coal-fired power. While Iowa State has made efforts to remain below the legal limits of coal emissions, he says that “merely complying is not good enough. ISU needs to live up to its high standards.”

Many students have agreed with Moore’s statement and showed up at the rally to offer their support. Lizzy Bertelson, representative from ISU Ambassadors and senior in materials engineering, gave a speech that highlighted Iowa State’s commitment to advancing the field of technology. Gesturing toward the power plant on the east side of campus, she said Iowa State has always used “cutting-edge” technology to keep emissions low, but 150,000 tons of coal still are burned each year to power campus.

Bertelson said, “Students, faculty and administrators have the power to control Iowa State’s carbon footprint and coal use. And with that power comes responsibility.”

A speech given by Bill Gutowski, ActivUs’s adviser and professor geological and atmospheric sciences, said a community not only has a responsibility to conserve energy for itself but to the rest of the world. “What we burn here has global impact,” he said, explaining that trends resulting from climate change, such as increased temperatures and loss of arctic ice, are linked to the burning of coal for power, especially for electricity. Gutowski said each American, on average, burns three tons of coal per year. But in Iowa, that number more than doubles to eight tons of coal burned per year per person.

Tahira Hira, executive assistant to Leath, told attendees, “We are very aware of the issues and very concerned ourselves. … We are doing everything that is possible,” when she accepted the file folder of signatures on the president’s behalf. She then said the administration wants what is best but also what is affordable and possible.

Attending the press conference with Hira was Jeff Witt, director of utilities, who explained how Iowa State was making strides to explore more energy options. He said that efforts are being made to research different types of fuel and the university is not planning to add more coal boilers in the future. He also explained that Iowa State is testing the waters with wind energy, having started to purchase small amounts of it about two years ago.

Students involved in the Beyond Coal movement also believe it is important for students to do their part in conserving energy. “This is an issue that we all have a moral imperative to address,” Moore said. “Our economy and our lifestyle are powered by fuels that won’t be around forever.”

Graham Jordison, representative of the Sierra Student Coalition, urges students to be mindful of how much energy they use on a daily basis. “The most important thing students can do … is to conserve energy. … That is the biggest carbon footprint on campus.”