Great coverage of an important issue (“The new BWL plant: Is gas the way to go?) by City Pulse’s Larry Cosentino this week. And kudos to the folks who are courageous enough to push back and ask tough questions of LBWL decision makers. The technology is indeed changing fast. An often overlooked or under-considered element in investment choices is the acceptable payback time. If one expects a five year payback time before investing it reduces the narrow financial options over even adding two more years to the payback schedule. But the carbon dioxide savings could be huge.

One should also remember, with any fossil fuel based systems, you have to keep mining and paying for the fuel year after year and generally those costs rise. Renewable energy, especially wind and solar have high initial capital costs, but are fuel free in the future, even if you don’t care about carbon release BUT WE MUST!!!

What I have seen consistently overlooked is the simplest and cheapest approach – CONSERVATION. Simple stuff that has huge impacts when multiplied by hundreds, thou sands, millions of users. When we started the campus sustainability office at MSU almost two decades ago we recognized that tens of thousands of computers plugged into campus increased demand from the power plant.

Studies showed that huge percentages of computers were left on all the time when not in use.

Turning them off, when not in use, could literally save millions of watts on campus. Similarly for example, lowering thermostats one degree in the winter or raising one degree in the summer offer significant savings of money and CO2.

Decreasing energy demand means our energy production can be smaller, more flexible, and more adaptable to challenges and opportunities than huge centralized systems. Policies that incentivize energy waste reduction and improve efficiency will make renewable energy options financially easier, especially for those who lack the urgent concern for the accelerating climate destabilization that is headed our way. Come on LBWL, you can do better.

Terry Link Laingsburg (Terry Link is the founding director of the MSU Office of Sustainability.)