A little cognitive dissonance for your Wednesday: Environmentalists are praising Southern Oregon University for continuing to heat the campus with a fossil fuel.
The Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees made the decision because it will cost less — $2.5 million for gas-fired boilers versus $6.5 million for biomass boilers producing steam and $7.5 million for biomass boilers producing steam and generating electricity.
The cost is a significant concern. Opponents of the biomass system also said it would produce unacceptable levels of particulate pollution from burning wood waste, and residents protested the idea of truckloads of wood slash rumbling into town from nearby forests.
But here's the thing: Some of the same people who are cheering the natural gas option also advocate thinning nearby forests to improve forest health and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. That thinning and other logging will continue to happen. Slash will continue to pile up. And it will be burned anyway, in open piles with no pollution controls whatsoever.
The biomass option at SOU would have reduced the university's reliance on fossil fuel, furthering its stated goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. The natural gas option will not do that.
What's more, while natural gas appears to be a great bargain at today's rock-bottom prices — thanks in part to fracking, another bugaboo of the environmental community — energy markets are volatile, and gas prices could soar in the future.
Instead of a renewable fuel source, SOU has chosen business as usual.