SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Notre Dame officials said Monday that a plan to phase out coal-burning power plants over the next five years will ultimately pay for itself through lower energy costs.
The announcement comes ahead of Pope Francis’ planned visit to the United States. During a news conference, the Rev. John Jenkins, the university president, said the move is part of Francis’ plea for bold action to curb climate change.
The university also announced it plans to cut its carbon footprint in half by the year 2030, saying it plans to spend about make up the $113 million it plans to spend on renewable energy sources in the coming few years .
“I think in a way it’s the pope calling us to take the long view. Often we take the short view. If you take the long view and you’re innovative, there’s some pain up front, but it’s sustainable and we think cost-effective,” Jenkins said.
The Sierra Club said Notre Dame was the 35th U.S. university since 2012 to adopt such a plan, leaving 27 that still have coal-burning plants. The environmental organization called on the utility that provides 50 percent of the school’s power, to sever its reliance on fossil fuels.
“We have 4,000 colleges and universities across the country that still rely on these dangerous fossil fuels to power their campuses,” said Jodi Perras, the Indiana representative of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “We would hope that Notre Dame would call on Indiana Michigan Power to reduce its use of coal.”
Notre Dame said it generates about 50 percent of its electrical energy needs with the other half coming from Indiana Michigan Power. Indiana Michigan Power spokesman Tracy Warner said the utility has been working to reduce its use of coal and that more than 50 percent of its generation capacity is from carbon-free emission sources.
Students are putting pressure on universities to get away from using coal, Perras said.
“Young people are concerned about their future when it comes to climate change,” she said.
John Affleck-Graves, university executive vice president, said the university estimates it could just about make up the money it plans to spend on renewable energy sources with the money it will save in energy costs over the next 30 years.
“You get your payback over time because you’re not paying for it every year,” he said.
When asked whether the university would try to get Indiana Michigan to reduce its use of coal, Affleck-Graves said the university monitors the carbon footprint of its suppliers.