After months of persuasion by the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations, Purdue has abandoned its plan to install a new coal-fired boiler at the Wade Utility Plant.
The University instead will install two natural gas fired boilers - the original plan included only one natural gas boiler. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management must grant permission for Purdue to amend their permit application; however, there is no indication that the request will be denied.
Despite the pressure from environmentalists and regulators, Purdue officials insist their decision was made strictly in light of revised economic analysis.
"Changing our decision was about economics," Bob McMains, the vice president of physical facilities, said.
Bruce Nilles, the director of Sierra Club's energy campaign, has been working to educate Purdue's board of trustees about the issues surrounding coal.
"When that original decision was made, there was no rigorous assessment of alternatives," Nilles said. "It was going to be the only application from an institute of higher education for a new coal boiler."
Nilles said the trustees changed their minds after receiving more comprehensive information about coal.
"The trustees have been asking tougher and tougher questions of the administration," Nilles said. "The trustees were willing to listen."
McMains explained the administration's original decision as being concerned with reliability.
"We have to make sure it's reliable," McMains said.
Nilles said clean energy is at least as reliable as coal. The unease with clean energy, he explained, is a product of the old way of thinking about energy from when nuclear power was seen as the only viable alternative to coal.
The announcement about the coal boiler was followed by news that the University will lease land at the Animal Science Research and Education Center to create the Purdue Energy Park. The wind farm will consist of 60 wind turbines which will, together, generate 100 megawatts of electricity. Wade Utility Plant generates about 40 megawatts.
"It's a great day for Purdue," Nilles said.