College Planning & Management

JUN 2013

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Trends in Green sus Tainable innovaT ions on c ampus Student-Supported Solar Energy The university of vermont develops an important outreach tool for agriculture. W hen students left the university of Vermont (UVM) campus in Burlington in May 2012, the roof of the Ellen A. Hardacre Equine Center at the University's research farm, the Paul Miller Research Center, was a familiar stretch of corrugated red metal. When they returned for fall classes, 134 gleaming solar panels, positioned in orderly rows, greeted them from the sloping rooftop. The panels will produce an average of 100 kWh of electricity per day, enough to power six medium-sized homes and supply 8.5 percent of the research farm's electricity needs. The solar panels are the latest contribution UVM's Clean Energy Fund (CEF) has made to the University's campus. Student Support Launched in 2008 after a survey found that a large majority of students supported the idea, the fund assesses UVM undergraduate and graduate students a $10 fee each semester to establish new clean energy projects on and around the UVM campus, generating about $225,000 per year. Twenty-one projects have been fnanced to date. The Equine Center's solar panels are unique among Clean Energy Fund projects to date, says UVM's director of sustainability, Gioia Thompson, because they link renewable energy and agriculture. "Students wanted to underscore the connection between renewable energy and agriculture," she says, "as pressure increases to use agricultural land for energy, as well as food and fber production, and as farmers struggle with rising energy costs." The panels will produce the most electricity during the long days of summer, Thompson says, when electricity is at peak demand and the Northeast relies on the dirtiest forms of energy to meet its electricity needs. Shedding Light on Solar's Potential According to Chuck Ross, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, one of the project's most important functions will be to make a medium-scale agricultural solar installation a tangible presence for Vermont farmers. "Solar has an important contribution to make to farm viability in Vermont, but compared with other renewables, it's still in an early adopter phase here," he says. "An important aspect of the UVM demonstration project is that farmers can visit, see how the system was installed, understand its economics and the incentives that are available, and determine if the technology is feasible at their own farms. UVM students deserve real credit for conceiving and funding this important education and outreach tool." 58 COLLEGE PLANNING & MANAGEMENT / JUNE 2013 Farmers and others will also be able to view the real time energy output of the solar array online (www.uvm.edu/solar). Ten-Year Payback The total cost of the UVM project was $135,990, says Thompson, with the Clean Energy Fund supplying $80,250 of the total. An incentive grant of $55,740 from the Clean Energy Development Fund made up the difference. Also contributing to the project's economics is a solar credit program from Green Mountain Power (GMP), which supplies electricity for the UVM farm. For every kWh of electricity the solar array produces, UVM gains a value of roughly 20 cents: about 14 cents for the average retail price of a kWh of electricity it doesn't need to buy, plus a six-cent solar premium that GMP pays for every kWh generated. The credit program should generate about $8,000 a year, allowing UVM to repay its initial investment in 10 years, Thompson says. While the University's incentive grant was large because of the educational role the project can play, solar technology still makes fnancial sense for farmers, according to Andrew Perchlik, director of the Clean Energy Development Fund, housed in the Vermont Dept. of Public Service. "Under current incentive terms, farms could expect a grant of between 10 and 15 percent," Perchlik says. "However, the price of solar is decreasing and the statewide solar adder program now makes solar net metering a good option even apart from the incentive." Rooftop Resource Tom Vogelmann, dean of UVM's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, says the solar array is just the kind of project a land grant institution like UVM should be undertaking in the 21st century and thanked students for making it possible. "As a land grant, we need to model the most innovative ways of contributing to the viability of agriculture in our state," he says. "We hope the solar panel project will spark discussion about costs, sustainability, and clean energy, as well as demonstrate the nuts and bolts of how and where solar panels can be installed. This is a great gift students have given us and the state's agricultural community." The project also makes use of an underutilized resource on Vermont farms, says Clark Hinsdale, president of the Vermont Farm Bureau — rooftops. "Most agricultural business have a lot of roof space," he says. "Solar is a renewable resource that doesn't have to use land and can be a nice supplemental income source for farmers." The solar panels began producing electricity in early September. CPM www.PLANNING 4EduCATION.COM

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