Butte College in northern California becomes first "grid positive" college college in U.S.

Butte College
Butte College, located in Northern California and resting on a 928-acre wildlife refuge, has been recognized over the last few years as a national community college leader in sustainability. By May 2011, the college will move to the head of its class—as the only college in the nation that is grid positive—producing more clean energy from sustainable on-site solar power than it uses.

The college recently received approval from its Board of Trustees to complete its Phase III solar project, which adds approximately 15,000 solar photovoltaic panels—or 2.7 MW DC—to its current 1.85 MW or 10,000 solar panels—which will ultimately make the college the largest solar producing college in the world –for a system total of 4.55 MW DC of clean renewable energy generation capability. The college will generate over 6.381 million kW hours per year – enough electricity to power over 9,200 average-sized homes, or the equivalent of removing over 6,000 passenger cars from the roadways.

"Once this solar project is completed, Butte College will provide enough clean renewable energy to cover all of our electricity needs and generate slightly more than we use--which will be a source of additional revenue for the college," said Dr. Diana Van Der Ploeg, Butte College President. "Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do. Being the first grid positive community college in the country demonstrates our commitment to the sustainable practices we're modeling for our students and our communities."

Van Der Ploeg credits the college's transformation to a national leader in sustainability due to student engagement both at the college and in the community, infusion of sustainability into the curriculum, workforce development focused on green jobs, LEED certified buildings, sustainable land use management, and operation of the largest community college student transportation system in California.

The new 15,000 solar panels will be placed atop rooftops and will create covered parking areas and walkways, in addition to being mounted on the ground. The total funding for the project is $17 million, which $12.65 million is made possible by federal Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBS) which are low-interest loans that can be used for clean energy projects. The remainder, up to $4.35 million, will be funded by college.
According to Miller, the funding to pay for all of the solar projects, is the funding budgeted annually to purchase electricity from the grid, and for Phase III, almost $1 million in rebates from PG&E, the California Solar Initiative, and benefits from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act/CREBS allocations.
The Clean Renewable Energy Bonds for the project were arranged and funded by Bank of America as part of its 10 year, $20 billion business initiative to address climate change.

"Butte College is taking a true leadership role in helping California meet its clean energy goals," said John Rudberg, Energy Services sales executive for Banc of America Public Capital Corp. "We work with schools, colleges, public institutions and private companies across the country in energy efficient projects. We are pleased to continue helping Butte College on its path to becoming the only sustainable energy grid positive college in the nation."

The first component of the Phase 3 solar project includes the construction of 1,639 solar panels that will create covered parking spaces at the Butte College Chico Center and will generate 450kW DC. The installation of the 13 new solar arrays has started at the Chico Center campus and will culminate at the main campus. This project is scheduled to be completed by May 2011.

"This project directly employs local people, local vendors and provides a huge economic shot in the arm for Butte County. This is a sustainable project for everyone and saves money for taxpayers. All of Butte College's solar projects are projected to save the college over $150 million net over 30 years," said Mike Miller, Butte College Director of Facilities, Planning and Management.

When all of the college's solar projects are combined, the college will have a yearly reduction of over 6.9 million pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2), 27,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and 20,000 pounds of nitrogen oxide (NOX).

"This solar project helps the college come close to being climate neutral and allows the college to offer solar training classes, in addition to reducing energy costs and generating revenue," said Van Der Ploeg.

Chico Electric and DPR Construction, Sacramento formed Chico Electric DPR Energy JV for this project. The two companies bring expertise in LEAN project delivery and sustainable energy. LEAN construction is the collaborative design and construction methodology that incorporates all of the separate professional sub-groups, design disciplines and trade contractors into a cohesive management team. Norm Nielsen, owner of Chico Electric, is an alumnus of Butte College and has installed other solar projects at the college.
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