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University cuts coal use one year ahead of schedule

| Tuesday, October 15, 2019

For over 150 years, coal has been an important source of energy for Notre Dame. However, the Notre Dame power plant burned its last load of coal this Monday, marking the discontinuation of its coal-burning program more than a year ahead of schedule.

“Notre Dame once relied on coal to keep the bellies warm and later to keep the lights on,” University President Fr. John Jenkins said during a news conference.

The administration was inspired by Pope Francis’ call to rethink the connection humans have with the planet, Jenkins said, “not seeing it as a resource for our needs, but as a gift.”

“Our efforts at sustainability are an effort to make our world flourish for future generations, but it’s also a call to think in a new way about our relationship with Earth and the environment,” Jenkins said to The Observer. “It’s a spiritual goal as well as a practical one to change our lives.”

As such, in 2015, Notre Dame announced its plans to cease burning coal by 2020 and cut its carbon footprint by more than half by 2030. As of Monday, both goals have been met.


Maria Luisa Paul | The Observer
The University burned its last load of coal on Monday as part of its response to Pope Francis’ call to care for the environment.


These initiatives are part of the University’s Comprehensive Sustainability Strategy, which also includes a hydroelectric plant on St. Joseph River, a geothermal system and a new thermal energy East Plant.

Notre Dame has implemented an array of energy-conservation measures since 2008. These include installing the largest green roof system in Indiana, having a minimum “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” (LEED) silver standard for new constructions, using energy-efficient lighting and low-flow water devices and setting temperature controls. Together, the measures have served to not only reduce carbon emissions, but to also generate a more than $2 million annual savings, according to a press release.

Paul Kempf, assistant vice president for utilities and maintenance, said Notre Dame has invested almost $200 million in both conversion of energy systems and the renewable energy projects.


Maria Luisa Paul | The Observer
Assistant vice president for utilities and maintenance Paul Kempf spoke Monday about Notre Dame’s continuing investment in renewable energy and long-term plan to reach carbon neutrality.


Carol Mullaney, the senior director for the Office of Sustainability, said the University’s ongoing sustainability strategy is multidimensional, as it includes actions both big and small.

“It encompasses and includes some very large actions — like we’re celebrating today — but it also includes elements that are small, everyday actions that we can each take collectively that can have a great impact on our environment,” Mullaney said.

Moreover, she explained the strategy relies on local partnerships to find and implement solutions.

“What we do here impacts the local community, and what the local community does impacts us as well,” she said. “… We partner with local and regional organizations here because we’re all in this together. So through the City of South Bend and the Green Ribbon Commission, locally we have co-sponsored several events. We’ve worked together on several things, and they’re invited in some of our working sessions as well.”

Another important aspect addressed by Notre Dame’s strategy is education, Mullaney emphasized.

“One of the key underlying elements of our sustainability strategy is really to influence people’s awareness and their behavior, and as part of that we need to broaden their awareness and educate people,” she said.

Though Notre Dame reached an important milestone in its sustainability efforts, Kempf recognized more work still needs to be done to protect the environment.

As such, the University has developed a plan that looks out almost 50 years in the future, which includes more projects and initiatives geared towards allowing Notre Dame to become carbon neutral by 2050, Kempf said.

“Our work is not complete,” he said. “Although we’ve met our short-term goal way ahead of schedule, there’s still lots to be done. We continue to look forward in finding more opportunities to reduce our carbon footprint.”

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