Butte College now largest solar campus in California

March 5, 2009 12:03am

•  Adds three more solar projects

•  Campus now 44 percent solar

Butte College in Oroville says it is adding three more solar power projects that will help it achieve its goal of becoming a carbon neutral campus by 2015. With its newest sets of energy-capturing panels, 44 percent of the campus will be powered through solar energy -- making the college the largest solar producing campus in the state, it says.

The college also projects it will save $32.6 million in reduced energy costs over 20 years. The college says it will realize the savings since over the next 20 years it will pay a fixed energy-use fee and not be subjected to energy price increases.

The 2,400, 185-watt Mitsubishi Electric solar modules are installed on a sloping hillside, absorbing sunlight into the solar cells and converting it into electricity. This recent addition of three solar arrays totaling 450 kW DC at three separate areas on the campus will produce an estimated 675,000 kWh of solar electricity annually and power 10 campus buildings.

In 2005, the college installed its first 1.06 megawatt DC solar system which included 5,700 solar panels on a four-acre field. With the college's combined solar projects, the total projected energy generation is 2.7 million kilowatt hours each year. This generation could power 391 homes while preventing the emissions of 1478 tons of carbon dioxide, 11,610 pounds of sulfur dioxide, 8,640 pounds of nitrogen oxide, 9.72 pounds of mercury, and 432 pounds of particulate matter each year.

"By adding our latest solar arrays, Butte College is now the largest 'solar' college campus in California. This marks our college's fourth campus solar project since 2005 and work is underway to complete a fifth solar project in May," says Diana Van Der Ploeg, Butte College president. "Our college has set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2015 and this project helps us toward this goal.”

Norm Nielsen, owner of Chico Electric and a Butte College alumnus, was the solar installation vendor and says it took three months to complete.

The ground-mounted solar array near the wastewater treatment plant will offer even greater educational value. Chico Electric designed and donated a portion of the solar array to serve as a "training lab" for students and faculty. At this site classes will install actual solar panels into a solar array just as they would at an actual job site.

"It's exciting to provide the college with a facility that can be used to train future solar installers," says Mr. Nielsen.

Butte College will also have an interactive educational kiosk on campus where students can see the real-time performance of the solar system and learn how solar power works.

“We'll use this project as a living laboratory for our students just as we use the green buildings on our campus," says Jon Stallman, Butte College's sustainability coordinator and instructor.

The total cost for the college's latest three projects was $3.42 million and involved working with PG&E's California Solar Initiative which provided a $700,000 rebate check.

Financing for the project is from Bank of America, through its 10-year, $20 billion environmental initiative to address climate change.

This May, the college plans to complete yet another solar project, with more panels near the Child Development Center. Once installed, about half the electrical needs of the college will be provided by solar.

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