Geothermal Energy Grant Generates Some Heated Discussion

Exciting news!  Furman University has been chosen to receive a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).  This grant is part of the Recovery Act, which will use $338 million in funding to support the “exploration and development of new geothermal fields and research into advanced geothermal technologies.”  Perhaps even more exciting is the fact that Furman was one of only 123 institutions nationwide that was chosen to receive this grant, of which 28 are colleges and universities.  On top of that, Furman, which is the only liberal arts college out of the 28 schools, is the only grant-receiving institution from South Carolina.

This grant will be used to create a new geothermal system in Furman’s North Village housing, in which over 1,000 students reside each year.  The construction of this geothermal system, which is projected to be complete by the summer of 2013, will be instrumental in Furman’s efforts to reach climate neutrality by the university’s bicentennial year, 2026.

After reading an article which describes the grant (Furman gets stimulus money for geothermal energy) that was posted on the website of The Greenville News, I was both shocked and disappointed to read the negative reactions of several other online readers from the Greenville community.   In my opinion, this comment, posted anonymously, was the most “colorful”:

“This is a great example of how our government wastes our money.  First they steal it from us with impunity.  Then they take it and give it to other people (in this case Furman) to invest in money-losing, unprofitable ideas.  The reason no one does this sort of thing (geothermal for housing) is because it is too expensive to justify its limited benefit.  No private company (including Furman) would be so stupid and so reckless as to invest in this type of project, so why is it that people are willing to accept our government’s irresponsible conduct?  Furthermore, I see no justification for redistributing my income to entities such as Furman who demonstrate no evidence of needing it (i.e. I need my money far more than the wealthy Furman elitists need it).  I’m tired of my income being taken by force and used to enrich the wealthy.”

I will resist the strong urge to rant about how this argument is incredibly ignorant and extraordinarily offensive to the Furman community.  Instead, I will explain how every human, including the author of the above post, can benefit from the environmental and financial advantages of geothermal energy systems.  Furman’s system is expected to reduce energy consumption by approximately 1,041,520 kWh each year, meaning that Furman’s carbon footprint will be significantly lowered by this single project.  This reduction in energy consumption will also result in approximately $55,000 in energy savings every year, and, as electricity rates in South Carolina continue to increase, so will these savings figures. 

Sure, the upfront cost of this geothermal energy system will be fairly hefty.  However, with projected lifetime savings of up to $2.6 million and an annual carbon reduction of 676 MT CO2 equivalent, it is clear that there will be immense long-term benefits.  Our society needs to be willing to make a few sacrifices for the greater good of our environment and of humanity.  If we can each learn to settle for a little bit less right now, we can each do our part to make this world a better place. 

Here at Furman, we are very proud that our commitment to sustainability has framed us as a leading institution in the field.  Receiving this generous grant to install the geothermal energy system in North Village is not only a great honor, but it will also help fuel Furman’s dedication to creating a more sustainable learning environment.  We hope to influence members of the Greenville community along the way, encouraging every citizen to do his or her part to live more sustainably for the sake of future generations.

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