COLUMBIA — Several carloads of MU students are traveling to St. Louis on Friday to talk with the UM System Board of Curators.
Clean energy is not listed on the board's Friday agenda. The students, who are members of Coal Free Mizzou, would like to change this.
Coal Free Mizzou is a student organization advocating for wind, solar and renewable energy power at MU. Since 2009, they have staged "die-ins" on campus, where they lie down in protest to symbolize people who are harmed by coal emissions and criticize MU for using coal power. But recently, the group decided to change tactics and work with UM System officials.
Collaborating with MU
On Sept. 13, about 50 activists wearing yellow "Beyond Coal" T-shirts attended a Board of Curators meeting and requested a meeting with President Tim Wolfe.
The university obliged.
In a letter dated Nov. 28, Chancellor Brady Deaton invited students "to begin the collaborative process" and arrange a meeting with campus facility staff next semester.
During a Coal Free Mizzou planning meeting Tuesday, Sami Tellatin, an MU engineering student, discussed the next steps in outlining the organization's relationship with the university. She said preaching clean energy to MU administrators only goes so far.
"What we need the most is specific data about energy use on campus," she said. "That's what campus officials need to go forward."
Next semester, the students plan to meet with Meredith Elbaum, a Boston-based consultant helping MU improve its energy system.
Lindsey Berger, Midwest regional organizer for the Sierra Club, is helping the students plan for the meeting with MU officials.
"These are the people in charge of the entire Missouri system, and these are the people whose attention you have," Berger said during Tuesday's planning meeting.
Berger was helping the students frame the message they planned to present to the curators Friday.
"This is all new," Berger said. "We've been working three years to get where we are.
"If we can bring 15 to 30 people across the state, we will make a powerful message," she said.
The students hope the university will continue to include them as MU plans sustainability efforts.
"I think (the university leaders are) definitely going in the right direction, getting them to bring us in on the conversations, to have an open dialogue with us," said Kelsey Wingo, media coordinator for Coal Free Mizzou.
"What we're always hesitant with is follow-through," from the university, she said. "That's why we have to keep up with this pressure."
MU's clean energy efforts
Karlan Seville, a spokeswoman for MU Campus Facilities, said money is the limiting factor in MU's clean energy efforts.
"We're doing what is reasonable in the economic climate today," she said. "We purchase wind energy off the grid. We also burn natural gas now."
The university installed a $75 million biomass boiler last year, which is expected to become fully operational in February. The Forestry Department ensures the wood is harvested in a sustainable way, said Steven Burdic, MU's sustainability coordinator.
Burdic said MU has had a concerted energy management program since 1990. He also said MU's energy consumption has declined by 14 percent while the size of its campus has grown by 33 percent.
"I think you'll find for large, public institutions, we're pretty progressive," he said.
Next steps for Coal Free Mizzou
Wingo said the university could do more to secure funds for clean energy programs, but she wasn't able to lay out a precise plan for how the university could get the money.
"As students, we don't have all the answers about what happens in the business world," she said.
Pressure for reform could come from alumni as well, Wingo said.
"We know of some alumni who are willing to stand up for us and this clean energy movement," she said. "We had alumni speak out that they don't want to give money to the school" because of MU's use of coal power.
For now, Coal Free Mizzou members vow they'll continue attending Board of Curators meetings to "keep 'coal free' in their minds," Wingo said.
"We're going to keep giving them projects and ideas until they believe that this is feasible, as we do."
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.