State of Energy: the campaign to divest OU from fossil fuels

This article is the first in the three-part #StateOfEnergyOU series.

Ohio University’s energy consumption has gone through some pretty significant changes, but you might not be aware of them. Why? Simple: not many people seem to be talking about it.

The changes all focus on the Lausche Heating Plant off West Green Drive, which provides heating to the university’s buildings. According to an article in the Athens Messenger, the plant used to run on a combination of coal and natural gas – until recently, that is.

At the end of 2015, the Lausche underwent a full switch from its coal and gas hybrid system to using exclusively natural gas.

“The last coal fire died out and Boiler number two was cleaned and stowed at about 1:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015,” said Ohio University Media Specialist Katie Quaranta in an email. According to an article in the Columbus Dispatch, the replacement is natural gas. The gas is purchased from Columbia Gas of Ohio and supplied to the university via a medium-pressure gas-line owned and operated by Columbia Gas.

The use of a medium-pressure gas-line to receive natural gas is a change from an earlier plan to convert the Lausche to operate on gas from a high-pressure gas-line, which was cancelled June 18, 2014 (according to this article published on the Sierra Club’s website). A register published online by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission cites that converting the Lausche would have cost over $70 million (the Dispatch states the gas pipeline only has a cost of $5.5 million). Ecowatch claims the university cancelled in part due to pressure from students who protested the conversion of the plant.

Despite the controversy, protest and relatively large amounts of money surrounding the recent activity at the Lausche, there seems to be little being said about the issue. Aside from a scattering of articles and the occasional press release or government register, opinions and conversation about the Lausche–especially on social media–are scarce.

One student group on campus is contributing to the conversation, however. The Ohio University Sierra Student Coalition (SSC), a local chapter of the national grassroots environmental organization, the Sierra Club, launched the #DivestOU campaign in October, 2015. Divestment, specifically fossil fuel divestment, is the practice of removing money that has been invested in the fossil fuel industry. “[#DivestOU] started just because SSC’s main goal this year has been to get the university to divest,” said Grant Stover, the president of the SSC and a junior at Ohio University studying history.

“People will always be more important than profit”

Posted by Ohio University Sierra Student Coalition on Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Stover said while the SSC supports divestment, the hashtag has more to do with divesting as a campaign than with the club itself.

“When we’re talking about [the hashtag], we’re talking specifically about #DivestOU and why [divestment] needs to happen,” he said.

When asked about the reaction to social media campaign, Stover said there has been a degree of conversation around the hashtag, although perhaps not as much as he would like.

“It’s been helpful but I think we just need to utilize it more to really… have a good online presence.”

Stover did mention he has seen the hashtag used in online sharing of the SSC’s petition to divest Ohio University, however. The petition has received 626 supporters at press time.

In addition to #DivestOU, Stover also confirmed that the SSC uses #FossilFreeOU on some of its content.

Fossil fuel divestment now! #DivestOU #FossilFreeOU #OUSSC

A photo posted by grant stover (@grant_stover) on

To break the silence about Ohio University’s decision to convert its energy plant or divest from fossil fuels altogether, add your comment below or follow Athens Unearthed at @ATNUnearthed and reach out with #StateOfEnergyOU.

EDIT: The original publication of this article failed to mention that both plans for the Lausche–the plan that was cancelled in 2014 and the plan that was eventually implemented–involved the construction of a gas pipeline. It also incorrectly stated that the high-pressure gas-line plan would have cost “around $70 million”. The actual figure is “much higher”, according to Joe Lalley, senior associate vice president for Information Technologies and Administrative Services at Ohio University.

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Luca Wistendahl
Web developer. I press buttons and sometimes make things look pretty.
When I write, I'm usually focusing on local environmental/energy issues.

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