To reduce its environmental impact, SU must cut down on natural gas emissions


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Though Syracuse University has made huge progress in its sustainability efforts, most of Main Campus remains powered by burning natural gas, a high-pollutant fossil fuel. 

SU needs to transition to electric-based heating and cooling systems on Main Campus if we are going to continue on our path toward sustainability.

Natural gas is often put forward as a “cleaner” energy source than coal or oil, but its tendency to leak methane into the atmosphere suggests that it is just as hazardous to the environment compared to other fossil fuels. 

Because of the climate crisis, the fossil fuel industry is lobbying for the use of this so-called “greener” fossil fuel, and unfortunately, succeeding. In fact, The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions explains that, since 2005, natural gas combustion has risen 41% in the U.S. The fossil fuel industry has incorrectly convinced Americans that natural gas is the cleanest energy source. 

Ethan Coffel, assistant faculty professor of geography and the environment in SU’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, said that, “In general, if you burn natural gas to create some set amount of energy, it will emit less than burning coal would.” But Coffel said, “It is possible that the climate benefits are actually reduced because of its tendency to leak.” 

Natural gas can leak methane, a strong greenhouse gas. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency states that “methane is 25 times as potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.” 

So, what can SU do to reduce this climate impact? The answer is clear: it can begin a transition to electric heating and cooling systems on Main Campus.

All South Campus buildings are heated by electricity. Associate Director of Energy Management Glenn Korec said, “At the time of construction of South Campus housing, electric heat was the preferred method due to the rising costs of oil.”


But the majority of Main Campus remains heated by natural gas. This is a setback for SU in terms of sustainability, and transitioning to electric heating systems would be a major milestone in these efforts. 

Transitioning to electric would open the door for the use of more renewable and sustainable energy forms. So, in other words, electric heating systems are able to naturally replenish themselves, unlike coal, oil, natural gas and propane systems, which are limited in supply and unsustainable.

Transitioning to electricity in residence halls also means more opportunity to buy energy from the grid. “If you get electricity from the grid here, it is fairly clean,” Coffel said. 

In New York in January, renewable energy sources produced 6,494 thousand megawatt hours of electricity, while nonrenewable sources produced 4,456 thousand megawatt hours. This is a solid sign that the state is moving in the right direction to using truly renewable, sustainable energy rather than unsustainable, “greener” fossil fuels. 

SU may not have the financial means currently to fully transition Main Campus to electric heating systems, but beginning this transition will still help the environment. 

With infrastructure of the central heating plant and all of the terminal heating equipment in buildings, this would be cost prohibitive to convert Main Campus to all electric for heating,” Korec said. 

And while it is understandable that the monetary cost may still be significant, the environmental cost of not being sustainable is notably larger. It is in SU’s best interest to begin the transition, even if this means one residence hall at a time. 

In 2015, SU announced its divestment from fossil fuels, a step that represents the university’s commitment to not only sustainability, but also the planet. Now, it is time for SU to divest from fossil fuel use on its own campus. Without doing so, we are failing to act as an…

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