On 40 Students and activists march towards the office of Ohio State University President Kristina Johnson on September 7. 24, 2021, requiring the construction of a $278 million gas power stations. “We will not give up, âsays Chandler Rupert, section chief of the Students for a Democratic Society campus, into a megaphone.
Columbus is the capital of Ohio and the fastest growing city in the Midwest. And its climate action plan is aggressive. In 2020, the mayor announced a carbon neutrality objective in 2050, and voters adopted a Sierra Club-backed plan to 100% renewable energy per 2024. Some of the large companies in Columbus, which are exempt from these requirements, have opted for the 100% pilot of renewable energies.
Ohio State, a public university with over 61,000 students, is located just north of downtown. It needs its own energy infrastructure to supplement that of the city, and back in 2008 announced its own goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. At the same time, the university continued to build new gas powered energy.
In 2017, in exchange for $1 billion (plus a donation of $150 million to “supporting academic priorities â), Ohio State sold its energy infrastructure to two French companies: the investment company Axium Infrastructure and the gas and electricity supplier ENGIE. Axium and ENGIE then formed a joint venture, Ohio State Energy Partners (OSEP), to operate the university’s heating, cooling and electricity, with plans to build the gas plant. The OSEP board of directors is chaired by the superiors of ENGIE and Axium.
In a press release, the State of Ohio said the privatization effort indicated “durability and efficient, high-quality operations. It will pay OSEP at least $54 million per year for its services.
The Sierra Club has sought to block the new gas plant, saying it conflicts with decarbonization plans. In June 2020 approval hearing with the Ohio Power Siting Board, Ohio Public Utilities Commission Chairman Sam Randazzo asked the Sierra Club’s Cathy Cowan Becker to find out if the city could really move on to 100% renewable energy. He then resigned from the commission in November 2020 after his home was raided by the FBI; he would have accepted $4 million dollars in bribes from First-Energy, a company that paid Ohio politicians in 2019 bail out their factories and dump renewable energy standards.
Sierra Club lawyers cited a 2021 Ohio law requiring the state to approve only projects that represent “the minimum negative impact on the environment. The university’s counter-argument was that the law should not apply, because wind and solar are not “achievable âon a large scale.
The electricity board approved the plan in September 2020, sparking protests. “They claim one thing [about investing in renewables] and then they do the other, âsaid Katy Jobe, an environmental science student, at the September conference. 24, 2021, an event.
At another demonstration, in May 2021, a a dozen activists gathered outside the home of the university president. Johnson’s response, according to protesters, has been to ask students to reduce their own carbon footprints and to announce that she is buying an electric car. She also called the campus police.
Many progressive student groups who oppose the plant are also concerned about hydraulic fracturing. In 2018, an XTO Energy / ExxonMobil natural gas well exploded in eastern Ohio and leaked more methane into 20 days than most European countries do in a year. Methane also has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide. And fracking made earthquakes more frequent in Ohio, one of the largest fracking-induced earthquakes in the United States to rock Ohio in March. 2014.
“Being sidelined multiple times doesn’t help the university’s record on this, âsays Vicky Abou-Ghalioum of GradRoots, a coalition of graduate students from the School of Environment & Natural resources. Abu-Ghalioum says that in response to the protests, Johnson invited her and other activists to sit on a sustainability task force – which has never met.
Other universities have similar experiences, with at least 60 the universities owning coal-fired power stations, many of which are in the process of shutting down. Iowa State University, Michigan State University, and Virginia Tech have made the switch (or plan to switch) from coal to natural gas, rather than renewables. Duke University tried, but students and community members fought the plan, which was delayed indefinitely.
Anagha Velamakanni, co-chair of the Young Democratic Socialists of America campus, points out that the fight is not just about current students. “After I graduate, guess what’s going to be around? Said Velamakanni. “The factory â, which is expected to be completed in December 2021.
Yet Velamakanni is determined: “We are not going to give up because it will hurt the environment and people. “