Spartans Move Beyond Coal

04/17/2015 01:43 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2015

On the heels of last week's fantastic Bloomberg Philanthropies and Beyond Coal announcement came some news from Michigan demonstrating once again how powerful our activists are.

Michigan State University announced that it will retire the largest on-campus coal plant in the U.S. by 2016 -- making it the 188th coal plant announced for retirement since the Beyond Coal campaign started in 2010. Indeed it is the tireless, years-long work by student activists with the MSU Sierra Student Coalition and Greenpeace who helped make this happen.

Current MSU students and alumni alike cheered the news, as did people across the U.S., as it is yet another example of how young people are driving the transition from coal to clean energy.

"To see MSU finally commit to retiring the use of coal on campus is huge," said Talya Tavor, an MSU alum who led the campus Beyond Coal work during her time on campus from 2009 to 2012. "It says so many things all wrapped up in one neat little announcement."

But Tavor and current MSU students know this is just one small step, since the coal plant's retirement isn't being met with a clean energy commitment.

"When I heard the coal stacks would switch from burning fossil fuels to natural gas, I was disappointed," said Courtney Bourgoin, an MSU sophomore and clean energy activist. "Natural gas risks methane leaks as well as increased demand for a dangerous fracking process, which especially hits home when thinking about the risk associated with degrading the health of Michigan's Great Lakes."

MSU student activists say their proposed Seize The Grid campaign, to begin in Fall 2015, will push for administrative plans that promise 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. In addition, the campaign will strive to increase student education and activism across campus, emphasizing in-person discussions with the administration about energy-source diversity and its benefits. The group intends to persuade the administration to stand up to the Consumer's Energy utility company, requesting that their power stems from both sustainable and clean sources.

"Clean energy is our future -- and not in some romanticized sort of way," said Bourgoin. "Clean energy has so many positive effects. It limits pollution, it increases business, and, of course, it helps our strained planet."

Tavor, who is now the interim director of Environment Maryland, agrees. "We created this campaign in order to power our campus with 100 percent renewable energy, and while MSU has taken a step in the right direction, they cannot stop after the first hurdle, they must finish the race."

Both, however, say this victory should be an inspiration to young people everywhere that you can and should go out and make a difference.

"The change may be gradual and the process at times frustrating," Bourgoin said. "Even if you don't achieve your goals, you are inspiring others to get motivated about something extremely important."

To Tavor, even when that victory comes years later, it's still pretty sweet. "Personally, to see the hard work of the dozens of volunteers who spent countless hours dedicated towards a vision for a better future is the most satisfying feeling. We poured our hearts and souls into this campaign, and to see its success now, well, it's a feeling hard to describe."