"Natural gas will be a significant improvement"

Penn State, under EPA guidelines and student pressure is almost certainly going to move away from coal. To what?

A large contingent of students has pushed for a larger renewable energy portfolio, mainly solar and wind but some. Others, like Byron Faye who spoke on Sustainability Now in December, don't oppose putting nuclear power into the mix.

But Penn State seems likely to go ahead with a large natural gas component. State College.com reports:
Senior Vice President for Finance Al Horvath told the trustees Friday that natural gas is the most viable alternative to the coal-burning set-up. Speaking with reporters later, Horvath said university officials worked with faculty members in the field to help develop the recommendation for the trustees board.

"The switch to natural gas will be a significant improvement in the amount of carbon-dioxide emissions," he said. He underscored that the project will deliver a 37 percent cut in carbon dioxide emitted from the campus steam facilities.

That's equal to taking 12,400 cars off the road for a year, according to the university.
In the economic and climate change calculus, many will call this a big win. CO2 emissions at university of Penn State's size are considerable. Given the fact that universities prepare the future workforce, this switch and its focus on greenhouse gas reduction are important. But at what cost?

Many do and will see this as a push toward more dangerous extraction processes that endanger Pennsylvania water. What will Penn State do to protect water? Will we ensure better practices than those that exist? How should this be handled? These questions have to come down to more than economic calculation.

When we had Erik Foley on the show, he talked about the environmental assessment that Penn State was putting on coal. Will Penn State do that more rigorously for natural gas extraction? As the institutional home of natural gas exploration, perhaps they can.

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