Given the pro-coal and anti-environment stances and actions of our new administration, it is more important than ever to “vote with your wallet” when it comes to fossil fuels. In that vein, the UIUC Senate passed a resolution last year to urge the Board of Trustees to divest from the University’s investments and holdings in coal to the tune of $5.1 million – a major win for the “Beyond Coal” movement. However, in the year since then, the University has done nothing to act on that resolution, and continues to retain its holdings in some of the dirtiest fuel on Earth. But you don’t have to wait on the University in order to divest from harmful pollutants like coal – here’s how you can take matters into your own hands and cut all ties with coal power, while possibly saving money.
When most people think of “going green”, they think of energy conservation. However, if the energy still comes primarily from dirty sources like coal and natural gas, no amount of conservation will force a significant shift away from those sources. Here’s where you can make a change: if you live in an apartment, Greek house, co-op house, etc. where you have control over your electricity account, look into green energy providers online or call your provider and ask for a rate quote for 100% renewable energy through Renewable Energy Credits. RECs are government-issued certificates that are basically a guarantee for one unit of energy produced by renewable energies like wind and solar power. Some houses in the Champaign-Urbana area served by Ameren have seen rates actually decrease after successfully transitioning to 100% wind energy RECs, and by divesting from dirty fuel entirely, energy conservation becomes a non-issue (as any electricity you use actually helps increase demand for renewable energies).
With this in mind, several myths about renewable energy can be busted, like that it’s not grid-viable (able to be used in a large-scale grid environment) or cost-effective enough to replace traditional fossil fuels. In Illinois, wind energy currently comprises around 6% of the statewide energy mix, but The Solutions Project (thesolutionsproject.org) estimates that a 100% renewable energy mix for Illinois would consist of 60% wind energy, a goal emboldened by the recent success of grid-scale wind projects in Europe and the U.S. While grid-scale wind projects have been in development for years, consumer-level renewable energy adoption has been slower, but that’s changing rapidly.
When consumers see how the transition to a renewable energy future helps where it affects them the most – in their wallet – we will see a drastic shift in our energy system that will be hard for universities and the local, state, and federal governments to ignore. So take the first step towards reducing (or eliminating) your reliance on coal by switching to renewable energy… it may be easier than you think!