Recently I have been hearing quite a bit from the group Beyond Coal at Virginia Tech. It’s committed to getting rid of Tech’s on-campus coal plant and working to run completely on clean, renewable energy. I think this is a great idea. However, as I hear more about what it is working toward I wonder how much these plans will cost students now and in the future. Beyond Coal is asking Tech to end its dependency on coal by the year 2020. When I first think about it, the demand seems reasonable. Then I remember that 2020 is just 10 short years away. Ten years ago global warming and CO2 emissions were hardly political issues, and they were not at the forefront of the minds of many college students as they are today.
I am not saying that global warming and reducing our carbon footprint are not serious issues that need a solution, they are just issues that need a practical and carefully thought out solution. The solutions to these problems are sure to cost a lot of money, and I wonder if what Beyond Coal is suggesting is practical with the current budget cuts and economy. I am sure that at least some of the cost of the proposed changes will be reflected in higher tuition rates and budget cuts in other important areas.
Some people I discussed my concerns with have argued that my tuition will not be affected by the proposed changes because I will have graduated by the time they will cost the university money. These people also mentioned it just has to be done whether we have the money or not. However, it is a moot point that the proposed changes will not cost me anything. Say I intend to earn my doctorate from Tech. If I am a sophomore now, then I will be in school for at least the next seven to eight years, and that is a low estimate.
That means these changes would indeed cost me money, and my younger brother who is hoping to come to Tech next year would have to pay as well. With the state of the economy, Tech needs every dollar it can get. However, in October, Gov. Kaine announced another round of statewide budget cuts. Also, with the election of Bob McDonnell, there are further concerns over budget. Governor-elect McDonnell said during his campaign that, if elected, he intends to take money from the general fund (where money for universities comes from) and use it to fund transportation advancements. This means that it is likely budgets for universities will be cut even further. I am worried that with the proposed cuts now and possible budget cuts in the future there will be little money for the drastic changes to our power infrastructure that are potentially proposed. In reality, 10 years is a very short period of time, and it seems even shorter when you think about what is proposed.
I wonder how much time, money and space on campus it will cost to change how the university is powered in just 10 short years. It is bad enough having the East Ambler-Johnson and commuter lot construction during classes (although I am well aware they are totally necessary); it seems that changing our energy source would cause the same kind of trouble, possibly even to a larger extent. Beyond Coal says it wants Tech to explore the costs and possibilities of changing our dependence on coal. But what happens after the estimates come back? What if the estimates are quite high and the university is facing further budget cuts? Will Beyond Coal continue to push for these changes so soon, even if Tech may not be able to afford them? I know that the university is committed to “Invent the Future,” and that is one of the great parts about Tech, but we still have to think about cost and practicality.