Kentucky voices: UK must advance alternative energies

University of Kentucky students with the Beyond Coal Coalition unfurled a large banner Jan. 19 
on the lawn beside the William T. Young Library. The group wants UK to shutter its coal boilers.
University of Kentucky students with the Beyond Coal Coalition unfurled a large banner Jan. 19 on the lawn beside the William T. Young Library. The group wants UK to shutter its coal boilers. Herald-Leader

As a youngster growing up in rural Kentucky, the University of Kentucky basketball program was everything. My first memories involve watching basketball games with my father. I remember crying after the Cats got beat in the 1999 regional finals by Michigan State, because I thought that Kentucky was supposed to be in the national championship game every season.

The joy of watching Kentucky basketball is ingrained in our culture and brings together people who would not have any reason otherwise to communicate.

Because of this deep reverence for the university and its teams, I want UK to be the best in every area — both on and off the court. That's why I and other students have been urging the university to ramp up its investments in clean-energy options that will mean cleaner air for Kentuckians.

Already many of our peer institutions, including Clemson University in South Carolina and the University of North Carolina have committed to stop burning coal on campus because it poses real health threats to students and the surrounding communities.

Here in Lexington, the university is doing great work investing in geothermal energy for our new dorms and ensuring they're built with the top efficiency technologies to save energy and money. It's time for UK to go all the way by ramping up its clean-energy investments to include clean, healthy and renewable options like geothermal and solar energy for the entire campus.

That would move us off coal and make us a national champion in more than just basketball.

The reality is that coal is not cheap. The negative health impacts of depending on coal, including, cancer, heart disease, lung disease and severe asthma attacks, cost Americans $100 billion in health care costs and 13,000 lives annually.

According a 2009 study performed by Dr. Michael Hendryx, a professor at West Virginia University, the human cost of the Appalachian coal mining economy outweighs its economic benefits. This doesn't account for the environmental destruction as a result of this industry, including thousands of miles of streams irrevocably covered, hundreds of mountaintops blown off, and species diversity that will be forever lost.

Coal is horrible for this state and is holding us back from building a prosperous clean-energy economy for the 21st century. Right now, clean energy jobs and businesses in Kentucky are growing at a faster rate than jobs overall. General state job growth was 3.6 percent last year, while renewable energy and efficiency jobs grew by 10 percent.

This trend is expected to continue. Additionally, studies show that with a greater mix of efficiency and renewable energy, over the next decade Kentuckians' electric bills will stay the same or be even lower than they would otherwise.

I am very proud of the UK students who are continuously demanding that our school take progressive measures to move off coal on campus toward clean energy solutions.

In support of this movement, the Sierra Club sponsored the UK-Arkansas basketball game to bring awareness to the clean-energy movement across our country and show its support for Wildcat basketball and the amazing students and fans here on campus.

As a generation, we have the responsibility to not leave our children and grandchildren with a world decimated by extractive industries, and to have sustainable energy solutions in place. As a state, solar and geothermal are viable options virtually everywhere. The political will to get these programs in place must happen, but the feasibility does exist.

In mountainous regions of Appalachia, wind feasibility studies have also showed promising results. UK has the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of these technologies, and I hope it listens to the student movement in future decisions.

I commend the Sierra Club for endorsing this cause, and showing that Big Blue Nation supports the end of the reign of coal in this state. Go Big Blue.