Jun 302009
 
Authors: Jessica Cline

Installation of the 38th and largest new solar panel system in the Fort Collins area was completed last week on top of CSU’s Engineering Building, and after powering up last Friday, university officials say it will produce cheaper, “carbon free” power.

With 108 total panels, the project is expected to save about $3,000 to $4,000 a year in electrical costs right now, and as electricity gets more expensive it will save even more money in the future, Facilities Management officials said.

Officials also said the new solar panels will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 18.3 metric tons a year, a feat they said communicates a message of sustainability to the CSU community.

“We think (this solar panel system) will provide as a good demonstration project for students who want to see us all move away from traditional fossil-fuel powered electrical generations,”/said Carol Dollard, an energy engineer for Facilities Management.

“While the contribution of this system is relatively small, additional systems in the works . will start to produce more significant amounts of power,” she said. “Since these other projects are in less visible parts of campus, we just wanted to have a system that the campus community could see.”

Putting together the solar panel system on the roof took about a week to complete after all plans were finalized and after CSU received a grant from the Governor’s Energy Office, which awards institutions money for the installation of sustainable energy sources.

The project cost about $110,000, but it was a one-time, up-front payment for a system that will last 30-plus years, Dollard said. It was funded mostly by the grant and partly from rebate money that CSU received for other energy efficiency projects including CSU’s pending Maxwell Ranch Wind Farm and the biomass boiler installed in the Animal Reproduction and Biotechnology Laboratory.

The new solar panels were situated in a central location on top of the Engineering Building where students can see them every day while walking across campus. This was a way to remind students of CSU’s goal to be more sustainable, and show students one of the ways the university gets its electricity.

“When you turn on a light or an electronics device, you don’t really think about where this energy comes from,” said Mary Warren, a Facilities Management student intern. “But when you see the source on your route to class, you become increasingly aware of the energy used along with your consumption habits.”/

Warren said these types of projects will become more popular as time goes on, and that educating students now and getting them used to new energy sources will help make the transition to different energy resources easier.

“This type of education is beneficial to students because rising energy prices are something that we will have to face in the near future, and renewable energy is a solution in dealing with these rising costs.”

This project represents the start of an initiative to power several areas of campus using solar energy, but a timeline is uncertain. Plans to install panels on the top of the Lake Street Parking garage are underway, and if everything goes accordingly, they should be up and running about a year from now Dollard said.

Citing skyrocketing electricity costs, Dollard said projects like this are becoming more popular in the community and around the world. She said the allocation of stimulus money and grants further encourage these endeavors.

Eric Sutherland, a local entrepreneur and energy industry expert, said he agrees that finding and providing renewable energy sources is vital to our future.

/”Solar panels are great because they provide electricity when we need it the most,” he said. “We are going to run out of electricity in the future and if we do not come up with new ways of generating electricity now, we will have to find new ways in the future that might be more expensive and less environmentally friendly.”

The CSU-Pueblo campus and several California universities recently installed large solar panel systems on their campuses, which experts predict will pay for themselves in saved energy.

“I would think that this is especially the case with schools because not only are they investing in themselves but also the future,” Dollard said. The people that attend these schools are the people that are needed to keep the momentum going in the future for developments in renewable energy.”

Staff writer Jessica Cline can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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