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Planning our energy future

10-28-2011

Sustainability in energy and other resources has long been a concern for us here at Michigan State, and I’m proud to note that our students have been with us all along, whether as consumers, partners, or as consciences prodding us to do the right thing.

Today we’re in the process of trying to do just that. A committee of faculty, staff, and students is working to develop an energy transition plan slated to be presented to the Board of Trustees at the April 2012 meeting. We will seek approval of a set of goals and strategies for our future energy procurement and usage, taking into account factors including cost and greenhouse gas abatement. The committee is pursuing a realistic approach to energy, its forms, and its costs.

I am expecting to receive a draft report from Vice President Poston in mid-December.  The draft report will be shared with academic governance and will be available to the community for comment. If there are individuals or groups who do not support the conclusions reached in the report, I will be happy to receive their feedback. I must stress that this is not an invitation to talk about what we don’t need; it is about providing concrete solutions that we can implement. I will consider all feedback before recommending a proposal to the Board of Trustees in April.

As the committee does its work, I’m being called upon by vocal activists to meet with them, presumably to pledge to do the right thing by banning the use of coal in our electrical generating plant on the south side of campus. As much as I value dialog on every topic of importance to our students––this blog being one such effort––it is not appropriate for me to meet with any interest group or individual on the topic of energy transition until the committee has delivered its report.

A thoughtful and serious report is being developed––in good faith, with long-term consequences––and it won’t help if I insert myself or anyone else into the process before it is complete. Doing so would function to obviate the important work that so many have invested in this important process.

All are encouraged to submit their ideas directly to the committee at energytransition.msu.edu. (Overuse of the university’s Facebook page, which must be maintained as a shared community and cannot be allowed to be dominated by one topic or group, is both an ineffective way to communicate with the committee and is inconsistent with user guidelines for the page.)  

At MSU we are working diligently to do the right thing by the environment and by everyone’s health, and we are well ahead of many of our peers in many areas. Areas in which we stand out include:

  • We reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 9 percent from 2009 to 2010.
  • We have 69 hybrid vehicles in our fleet that cut fuel consumption by nearly 9,000 gallons annually. The motor pool fleet cut greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent from 2008 to 2010 and average fuel economy rose 6 mpg since 2006.
  • CATA operates hybrid buses here and in a salute to a genuinely healthy energy source, MSU Bikes was designated a Bike Friendly University by the League of American Bicyclists.
  • Our landfill waste dropped 36 percent from a 2005-06 baseline.
  • MSU Food Stores purchases as locally as possible –– 57 percent of their products come from Michigan companies.
  • A campus storm water work group is directing implementation of a storm water management plan. Grow zones, rain gardens, and other water management features are integrated into the campus system.
  • All new construction is built to LEED-certified levels.

I don’t expect the things we have done and the things we plan to do to satisfy those who would wish for a much more ambitious, though likely unrealistic, goal in the near future. We have a study process under way, and we will allow it to carry on to its conclusion. Nobody is excluded from being a part of the legitimate process if they care to be. This way, ideas can be judged on their merit, not on their volume or packaging.