Across campus and under rainfall Thursday, Ohio State students protested the university’s plans for a natural gas power plant on the same day construction began.
About 50 students demanded Ohio State reevaluate its sustainability goals and invest in carbon capture, renewable energy, and communities impacted by fracking, according to a flyer for the protest. The demands also include the university apologize to students who have been “ignored, lied to and talked down to by OSU representatives for the plant.”
“We are one of the leading schools for environmental research, for climate change research, and then they go and then they build — they’re trying to build a gas power plant right by our school,” Katy Jobe, a fifth-year in environmental science, said. “That’s really hypocritical, right? They claim one thing and then they do the other.”
The plant, for which Columbus City Council approved construction on West Campus Sept. 17, has drawn criticism from students throughout the proposal process calling on the university to invest in more renewable energy.
The Ohio Power Siting Board held two public hearings where students, faculty, staff and other community members provided testimony. The majority voiced opposition to the proposal, citing negative health and climate impacts of a fracked-gas plant. Others expressed support on behalf of job opportunities at the facility and an overall reduction in carbon emissions.
Ohio State’s Sustainability Institute hosted an information session Oct. 7 for some students to ask questions of a panel of sustainability specialists; during the session, students expressed concerns about the environmental impact of the plant.
Scott Potter, senior director of the comprehensive energy management project at Ohio State, said during the information session the McCracken Power Plant can no longer satisfy heating needs on campus. He said although renewable energy technologies are feasible for electricity production, they can not meet the heating demands of the university at this time.
The university referred The Lantern to its previous statements about the power plant. A university spokesperson previously said the combined heat and power plant will reduce Ohio State’s carbon emissions by 35 percent in its first year of operations by providing energy-efficient electricity, heating and cooling.
Ethan Shun, a first-year in environmental science and computer science, said he learned about the power plant after seeing the Sierra Club at the Involvement Fair. He said a natural gas plant contradicts Ohio State’s mission to create a more sustainable campus.
“I care about the environment, and I think as Ohio State, we have a duty to uphold what we teach to our students, that’s to be a leader and be an activist,” Shun said.
Morgan Harper, former Democratic congressional candidate for the campus area, attended the protest and said she supports the students protesting the power plant. She said construction of the facility despite student and community pushback reflects poorly on Kristina M. Johnson’s first semester as university president, and it’s up to young people to make the issue a priority for leaders.
“We are seeing the impacts of climate change now across the country — and Columbus isn’t seeing fires and that sort of thing, but we have a chance to really get ahead — or at least try to catch up — with what’s necessary to reduce our carbon emissions,” Harper said. “So, taking this type of step makes absolutely no sense, and it’s not doing anything to protect the health of the students at Ohio State or everyone across the city.”
A university spokesperson confirmed that Johnson was in meetings during the protest.
Jobe said students will continue to try to hold the university accountable for the plant, but some felt mocked when they tried to voice their concerns at the public hearings over the summer.
“I really think that they’re pretty complacent in this situation, and I would like them to condemn this,” Jobe said. I would like them to stop entirely this production of the power plant and recognize what they claim to stand for and actually follow through with that.”
Owen Milnes contributed reporting.