Aug 232009
 
Authors: Matt Minich

In the coming months, 15 acres of land on the CSU Foothills Campus will become the home of one of the largest solar plants built on a university campus in the nation.

The project will provide 100 times as much energy as the new solar panels on the roof of the Engineering Building and could save the university more than $1 million in the next 20 years, said Brian Chase, the director for Facilities Management.The panels will provide the Foothills Campus, which lies just west of Fort Collins, with two megawatts of energy, or enough to supply about 10 percent of its power needs.

Two megawatts is enough power to fuel 20,000 light bulbs.

CSU is leasing the land, which was previously unused, to Renewable Ventures, a nation-wide clean energy contractor.

According to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, the project will be the third largest solar installation on a university campus in the United States.

The project is a collaboration between the university, Xcel Energy and Renewable Ventures, which will own and operate the panels.

University officials said the contract with Renewable Ventures allows CSU to purchase power from the panel farm at a fixed rate of 8 cents per kilowatt-hour for 20 years, after which the university has the option of buying the panels.

The power will be transmitted by independent power lines.

The Foothills Campus currently pays 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. University officials expect the flat rate to save CSU money in the long run as energy prices skyrocket.

Matt Cheney, the CEO of Renewable Ventures, said comparable initiatives typically cost about $6 million per megawatt. But the Foothills Campus project could exceed that average due to high winds in the area, which hinder construction and require structures to protect the panels.

Renewable Ventures will fund the entire project.

“In the long run, it’s going to be a great economic benefit,” said Carol Dollard, an engineer with Facilities Management.

The project is also in line with CSU’s “green university” image. It should offset carbon emissions by an estimated 2,000 metric tons, Dollard said.

The project began as a bid from Xcel, which provides electricity to much of Fort Collins as well as several other states, and is required by Colorado state law to produce 20 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

Construction will begin within the month, and the plant should be operational before the New Year.

Senior Reporter Matt Minich can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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