Double the sustainability: CSU increases solar power on campus

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Collegian | Falyn Sebastian

Alexander Wilson, Social Media Coordinator

On Oct. 11, Colorado State University celebrated 20 new solar installations on campus, which nearly doubled the previous number, at the CSU Solar Celebration.

“We’ve been working on this for a long time,” said Carol Dollard, an energy engineer at CSU and the mastermind behind the project. “To put into perspective, the first solar system on campus were the ones in the engineering building; they run 18.9 kilowatts — that would power a handful of buildings. What we’re celebrating today is 200,000 kilowatts or 4.2 megawatts. We are able to power over 800 homes. It feels like it’s getting faster. This is a big milestone, but frankly, we still have got lots more to do.”

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This event was honored by Gov. Jared Polis and Interim President Rick Miranda, as they both gave speeches on the accomplishment. 

“Back in 2017, a petition was circling, and more than 4,300 students, faculty and staff signed it to commit ourselves to be a 100% renewable campus by 2030 and zero carbon emissions by 2040,” Miranda said. “Chancellor — then president — Tony Frank signed that declaration, and we got started. It turned our campus into a living laboratory for sustainability. These projects really allow us to walk the walk.”

“One of the first campuses in the United States to achieve 100% renewable energy is CSU-Pueblo,” Polis said. “Colorado is heading towards reliable, renewable energy for everybody. Our goal as a state is to reach 100% renewable energy by 2040; we already have locked in 80%. Solar production in Colorado in the last three years has grown 70%. We’re 13th in the US. We want to aim higher and do better.” 

Namaste Solar designed and constructed these new CSU solar panels.

“Basically, Namaste Solar is responsible for figuring out ways to put the solar panels on the given facilities,” said Jon Wedel, the vice president of commercial and co-owner of Namaste Solar. “We do have a recycling stream for end-of-use. These are estimated to produce power at a minimum for 25 years. We’d anticipate 35-40 years on these buildings. At end of use, the modules would come off, be recycled and be replaced with new pieces of equipment.”

Standard Solar is the owner and will be in charge of the maintenance. 

“This is a fairly large project,” said Shaun Laughlin, the head of U.S. Strategic Development at Standard Solar. “Solaris asked us to get involved in the long-term ownership … (and) also take responsibility for long-term operations and maintenance. If something breaks, there’s a tornado, something gets damaged — somebody has to insure that, sign the bills, receive the money and distribute the capital, and that’s our job.”

Standard Solar is also in charge of the tax equity, allowing them to own the tax credits.

Solaris Energy provided funding and development services for the project. 

“Solaris (Energy) helped co-develop these 20 projects along with Namaste,” said Nick Perugini, the vice president and co-owner of Solaris Energy. “We offered financing, due diligence, legal, contracting and construction oversight expertise to play our part in making them a reality. We signed a Power Purchase Agreement with CSU, which will ensure the university gets to pay the same price for electricity today as they will in 2050.”

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Although CSU does not seem to have much power over the solar energy, it will own the Renewable Energy Credits toward its climate goals.

Thanks to the new solar arrays on 15 of CSU’s buildings, the university will be using more renewable energy.

“Why not water? Why not wind?” Dollard asked in response to students asking why CSU chose solar energy. “Frankly, it’s an economic calculation when you’re deciding what low-carbon energy source you’re trying to aim towards. … Solar is something we can do safely around students.” 

Solar energy won’t change anything about student life nor the amount of energy campus has, according to Dollard. 

“CSU has a pretty good reputation and national recognition for sustainability, and that attracts students who care about sustainability, and they push us to go farther,” Dollard said. “So I always appreciate students to push us to work harder.” 

Reach Alexander Wilson at life@collegian.com or on Twitter @alexgrey0604