Cutting Back on Pollution (and Jobs) at Coal-Fired Power Plants in Joliet and Romeville

As reported in the Friday 8 Aug 2014 edition of the Joliet Herald-News, NRG Energy company is planning to reducing coal-fired power generation at its Romeoville IL station and convert the coal-fired plant in Joliet over time to natural gas. In the process, the company (which acquired the power stations from California-based Midwest Generation earlier this year) will significantly downsize the workforce at both plants, eventually laying off about 200 workers in the region.

NRG's Generating Station in Joliet IL

NRG’s Generating Station in Joliet IL

While the loss of local jobs is painful consequence of this action, the environmental impacts of this change will be, on the whole, positive. The long-running Joliet and Romeoville power stations, both situated along industrialized stretches of the Des Plaines River and in the midst of dense human populations in Will County, are two of the biggest point-sources of air pollution in the Chicago region. The planned changes by NRG are expected to produce a significant cut in carbon emissions for the state of Illinois; and the reduced air and particulate pollution from burning coal will benefit approximately 200,000 citizens in the Joliet metro area as tens of thousands more in northern Will County region.

The planned shift to natural gas combustion at the Joliet plant is part of a nationwide trend to utilize natural gas in lieu of coal, which is far dirtier to burn, and is plentiful in the US due to ramped up extraction processes such as hydrofracturing. Nevertheless, fracking is a highly fraught process that poses threats to groundwater sources both in its excessive use of freshwater and its production of high volumes of toxic wastewater; and it is a politically charged point of controversy here in Illinois and in other states, particularly Pennsylvania and Colorado.

Posted in Business, Economics, Energy, Joliet, News, Pollution, Waste, Water

RU Installs Drip Irrigation System for Community Garden at Schaumburg Campus

by Mary Beth Radeck

Trenches were dug in the RUrbanPioneers Community Garden in June 2014 for drip irrigation installation (photo: M. Radeck)

Trenches were dug in the RUrbanPioneers Community Garden in June 2014 for drip irrigation installation (photo: M. Radeck)

The Environmental Sustainability team at Roosevelt University’s Schaumburg campus teamed up in late June to install the first-ever drip irrigation into the community garden, now in it third growing season in 2014.

Previously, water barrels were filled and irrigation consisted of hand-carried buckets, a time-intensive practice. Two years in the making, Environmental Sustainability interns Mary Beth Radeck, Kevin Markowski and Mary Rasic partnered with Pedro Perez, Chief Engineer at the Schaumburg Campus, to plan and execute this improvement. The team expects to save up to 50% of the water used to irrigate the garden this year—thus reducing the effort and costs of irrigation, but also improving the environment, too.

Irrigation for each garden is in place, awaiting micro-tubing to each individual plant (photo: M. Radeck

Irrigation for each garden is in place, awaiting micro-tubing to each individual plant (photo: M. Radeck)

Drip irrigation delivers water slowly, at low pressure near the plant’s roots, so that none is wasted and less water evaporates. Usually used with flower beds and gardens or hard to water areas, drip is more efficient and effective than spray irrigation, and much more precise by allowing maximum control over how much water is given to each individual plant. Control of the water reduces runoff and erosion, as well.

A drip system is easy to install and even available at local home improvement centers such as Home Depot. Every garden should have one, especially as water costs rise and water sources — whether deep or shallow wells or, in the case of Schaumburg, Lake Michigan — continue to be stressed by pollution, climate change, and urban development. For more information on drip irrigation and other water-saving methods, see the WaterSense website of the EPA.

Mary Rasic and Kevin Markowski will no longer have to fill water barrels at the Schaumburg Campus garden (photo: M. Radeck, 2014)

Mary Rasic and Kevin Markowski will no longer have to fill water barrels at the Schaumburg Campus garden (photo: M. Radeck, 2014)

Posted in Agriculture, Food, Gardening, Green Design, News, Roosevelt, Schaumburg, Schaumburg Campus, Students, Water | 1 Comment

Roosevelt Presents “Transformative Sustainability” at the 2014 GreenTown Conference

This afternoon at the GreenTown 2014 Conference at UIC, Campus as Community Change Agent: Higher Education’s Role in Advancing Sustainability in the Chicagoland Region, a team from Roosevelt University will give a presentation entitled “Transformative Sustainability: the University as Living Laboratory for Connecting Students to the Community.”

Paul Matthews (Assistant VP of Campus Planning & Operations) will map out RU’s sustainability vision first implemented in 2010, particularly in terms of its buildings, grounds, and operations; MaryBeth Radeck (undergraduate SUST major and Sustainability Associate in Physical Resources) will discuss the transformation of RU’s Schaumburg Campus the last few years and the role students have played in this process; and Mike Bryson (SUST Program Director and Associate Professor of Humanities) will talk about the Sustainability Studies curriculum, service learning, student research, and community-university connections.

During a half-day forum, GreenTownparticipants will learn about what colleges and universities are doing to advance sustainability throughout the Chicagoland region through academics, community development and infrastructure.  As higher education works to train the next generation of sustainability leaders, learn how they are making real change in communities where they are committed and provide feedback on what more can be done.

The target audience for this forum includes sustainability directors, facilities and landscape managers, food and nutrition service directors, community outreach staff, building engineers, capital planning staff, sustainability/planning/business department faculty, and students at Chicago area, Illinois and Midwest colleges and universities.

Goals of GreenTown 2014’s Campus as Community Change Agent forum:

  1. Engage a broad spectrum of university/college staff, faculty and students in sharing and learning about best practices, programs and initiatives that are driving sustainability change on campus and in the community.
  2. Create learning for colleges and university staff, faculty and students around the challenges and opportunities related to engaging the broader community in sustainability.
  3. Provide networking opportunities for staff, faculty and students across colleges and universities.
Posted in Conferences, Education, Events, Green Design, Planning, Roosevelt, Schaumburg, Schaumburg Campus, Students, Sustainability

Earth Week Events at RU’s Schaumburg Campus

The Roosevelt University community is invited to the following Earth Week events and activities held in Schaumburg. Help make the NW suburbs more sustainable and our campus more beautiful and ecologically productive!

RUrbanPioneersThursday, April 24, 1 p.m. Tree Planting: Please join the Schaumburg Campus community in the annual tree planting ceremony on the north east lawn. This event helps support our Tree Campus USA membership.

Saturday, April 26, 10 a.m. Community Garden Kickoff: Come out and help with the opening of the RUrbanPioneers community garden. This is the perfect opportunity to get out of the house and welcome spring by enjoying the fresh air. This will be the 3rd season of our garden, which supplied the Food4You dining center with 800 lbs of fresh produce last year, and which donated 100 lbs of veggies to the Hanover Park Food Pantry.

An  eWaste box located on the shipping dock is available to dispose old electronics, batteries, etc. The Earth will thank you for diverting these items from a landfill!

Map view of the Landscape Transformations to date at the Sch Campus of RU (text by SUST major and sustainability intern MB Radeck)

Map view of the Landscape Transformations to date at the Sch Campus of RU (text by SUST major and sustainability intern MB Radeck)

Environmental sustainability activities are being managed by Kevin Markowski (kmarkowski@roosevelt.edu), Physical Resources Student Worker and Environmental Sustainability Associate.

Posted in Education, Events, Gardening, Recycling, Roosevelt, Schaumburg, Schaumburg Campus, Students, Sustainability

Blue Island’s Resistance to Annexation by Chicago

Blue Island map in ChgoThis article by WBEZ’s Curious City features Blue Island, a Calumet-area inner suburb on Chicago’s far southern border that many years ago resisted annexation by a then rapidly expanding Chicago. Located at a juncture of several railroads, including the Rock Island Line commuter train that connects Chicago and Joliet, Blue Island is a vibrant, diverse, and close-knit community that exemplifies the potential of sustainable suburban development.

If Blue Island, a Southwestern suburb of just four square miles, once beat back Chicago’s attempt to annex it, we shouldn’t be surprised that they trounced other suburbs in a Curious City face-off.

Recall that curious citizen Jim Padden asked Curious City how Chicago grew over time by annexing its neighbors. (The answer? It’s in an animated map).

But then, we asked you: Which Chicago suburb’s story of resisting annexation do you want to hear more about?

Blue Island prevailed against Oak Park, which is on the city’s western border, and Evanston to the north. I want to thank the thousands of you who voted.

Where’s Blue Island?

If you’re not familiar with the place, Blue Island is a diverse, proudly working class suburb of about 24,000 people. It’s about 16 miles southwest of Chicago’s loop, as the crow flies.

To get to the heart of why this suburb said ‘No thanks’ when Chicago came knocking, we need to go back in time.

Read the entire article by Tricia Bobeda here.

Posted in Blue Island, Chicago, Communities, Economics, News, Planning, Sustainability, Transportation

Joliet IL Contracts for 167 Million KW Hours of Clean Energy

This announcement on the City of Joliet IL’s planned use of clean energy is from the 5 Feb 2014 online edition of the Herald-News.

CITYsealbest.cdrJoliet announced a deal Wednesday to use 167 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy in the next three years.

City officials said the purchase of wind power to offset greenhouse gas emissions is the equivalent of taking 25,000 vehicles off the roads.

“This year it turned out that this is cheaper than regular coal-burning power plants,” City Manager Jim Hock said.

Noting that alternative energy suppliers have been subsidized by the federal government, Hock said those power suppliers are “very competitive with the coal and the natural gas powered plants.”

Joliet will purchase the wind power through JustGreen, a subsidiary of Just Energy Group Inc.

Posted in Communities, Economics, Energy, Joliet, News, Sustainability

Biodiversity Course Preview for Spring 2014 at RU’s Schaumburg Campus

This spring the Sustainability Studies Program at Roosevelt University will offer SUST 330 Biodiversity for at the Schaumburg Campus. Taught by popular Adjunct Professor Maris Cooke in an innovative weekend/hybrid format, the 13-week seminar meets on five Saturdays and utilizes Blackboard for online interaction. The Saturday meetings are opportunities for field study, as detailed below in Prof. Cooke’s preview of the course:

What is biodiversity and why is it important? What factors are threatening the rich and varied abundance of life on Earth, and what are scientists doing to stem the losses in genetic, species and ecosystem variation?  Come take a walk on the wild side as we explore the biodiversity of the Earth’s prairies, woodland communities, wetlands and waters. 

We’ll go behind the scenes at the Field Museum of Natural History; study the oceans and the coral reefs through the rich resources of Shedd Aquarium; follow the springmigration of the nation’s imperiled song birds; learn how scientists track coyotes at the Crabtree Nature Center; and learn to use telemetry data to find the radio-collared wolf packs of Minnesota’s Superior National Forest. Join us as we learn about the importance of conserving biodiversity to our natural systems and human communities. 

Fast Facts about SUST 330 Biodiversity

  • SUST 330, section L30
  • Meets Saturday 10am-4pm on five dates: Feb. 1, Feb. 22, Mar. 8, Mar. 29, and Apr. 19
  • Online interaction required (through Blackboard)
  • Hands-on, field-based learning opportunities about biodiversity and conservation
  • Pre-requisite: ENG 102
  • Taught by: Professor Maris Cooke (mcooke@roosevelt.edu)

SUST 330 Spr2014 Flyer

If you are interested in enrolling in SUST 330 this coming spring, please contact your academic advisor. And if you’ve never tried an online course before, taking a hybrid course such as this is a great way to “test the waters,” since students will have ample opportunity to interact with the instructor and each other face-to-face, as well as get help/support with the online component if need be. Prof. Cooke is a longtime expert in online teaching and is someone who makes it fun and highly interactive.

Detailed Course Description (from the RU Catalog)

Development, pollution, agriculture, invasive species, and habitat destruction have resulted in an alarming loss of species worldwide. This course explores biodiversity in the context of ecology, conservation, ecosystem restoration, and regional planning. Students learn about a variety of natural science concepts and theories relevant to understanding the biological and ecological significance of biodiversity, such as ecosystems, species, genes, ecological interactions, and evolution. Students will gain a detailed understanding of the importance of conserving biodiversity to natural systems and human communities; and will learn the value of open space, parklands, and wildlife refuges for preserving biodiversity, particularly in urban areas.

Field experiences in selected ecosystems in the region (such as prairie or wetlands restorations, forest preserves, waterways, and/or dunes) provide students with opportunities to learn and apply biodiversity assessment techniques, such as field-based plant or animal surveys. Includes field trip / service learning opportunities with local conservation and restoration organizations in the Chicago region.

Posted in Biodiversity, Education, Schaumburg Campus, Sustainability | 1 Comment