Solar panel installation begins
Victoria Bresnahan – News Editor
The university is continuing its commitment to act against climate change with the recent installation of over 3,000 solar panels on the western side of campus.
Suzie Huminski, Southern’s sustainability coordinator, said when the entire project is completed it will “produce a million kilowatts hours of electricity every year.”
“To put that in perspective, the average America house uses about 10,000 kilowatt hours per year,” said Huminski. “So this is like having a 100 houses, that’s an equivalency there.”
Robert Sheeley, associate vice president for capital budgeting and facilities operations, said overall 3,168 panels will be installed in Lot 9 as both ground mounts and canopy-style, and around 360 on top of the Wintergreen parking garage.
In total, the project will supplement four percent of the university’s electrical needs, said Huminski.
“It will be a few acres of solar panels in total and it is still a tiny percentage of the amount of electricity we buy every year,” said Huminski.
Connecticut State Colleges & Universities has partnered with the Connecticut Green Bank and General Electric (GE) to fund the solar panel project.
Through this partnership, said Huminski, there will be no capital investment for the university. However, Southern will be purchasing the electricity produced from the panels.
The project does not raise tuition, or diverge funds away from university programs. Huminski said, this project will instead produce savings.
“We are going to save money on that purchase from the very beginning,” said Huminski. “This whole project is a savings for the university and for taxpayers, rather than an expense.”
The solar panels will reduce the university’s electrical bills by “tens of thousands of dollars” every year, as well.
“We know we will save that amount,” said Huminski. “We think we will save more because utilities prices are trending up over 20 years. So that helps us plan how to spend operating costs as well.”
Not only will the panels reduce carbon emissions, but sulfur, nitrogen and particulates from burning fossil fuels will be reduced as well, she said.
“The way this particular agreement works,” said Huminski, “because we don’t own the solar panels I won’t count the carbon emissions reduction in our greenhouse gas reporting. So, other projects that we have [had] have reduced our carbon footprint significantly. This will save us lots of money and we are playing a critical role of getting the industry to reduce carbon emissions.”
“Southern facing roof-space” is optimal for solar panel energy production, said Huminski.
“The roof has to be in relatively new condition because the solar array will be there for 20 years,” said Huminski. “So you wouldn’t want to eat up all your savings by taking all the panels back and then replacing the roof underneath it.”
When it concerns ground mounting, the use of the land should be taken into consideration, said Huminski.
“Lot 9 is part of the 300-year flood plain, or a piece of it is,” said Huminski, “so a building can’t be cited there. Because it’s a parking lot already it makes sense to put the solar panels on the canopy so you can park underneath them.”
There is another solar panel project in the works that will be equivalent to the same size, Huminski said. A date has not been set yet for when the project will begin.
Dave Bakeis, senior, [add attribution] said renewable energy sources, such as the solar panels, are always a “plus” for environments.
“Seasonally it will help students as well,” said Bakeis. “Having covered parking is the equivalent of being parked in the garage. If you have a class late at night you don’t have to go out there and clean off your car or anything else.”
Photovoltaic cells, or what solar panels are composed of, convert solar energy into electricity, said Bakeis. Installation of solar panels onto a home is no longer a large project either, said Bakeis.
“They have been around for a long time,” said Bakeis. “The technology in the last decade and a half has really progressed to the durability of them. People weren’t necessarily getting them for homes because there would almost have to have yearly maintenance. Now you can put them up and not touch them.”
Photo Credit: Jenna Stepleman