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Plymouth State’s Solar Array Powers Campus Energy Efficiency

Plymouth State University’s new rooftop solar array features nearly an acre of state-of-the-art solar panels. It is anticipated to offset more than 90% of the Physical Education Center’s annual electricity consumption.

Peter Lee Miller

Plymouth State University’s (PSU) venerable Physical Education (PE) Center has undergone an energy efficiency transformation. It joins the University’s new climate studies major and “no charge” electric vehicle (EV) chargers as the latest evidence of the school’s longstanding commitment to campus sustainability. Located in Plymouth, NH, amid the White Mountains and the Lakes Region, PSU is currently celebrating its 150th anniversary.

Nearly an acre’s worth of state-of-the-art solar panels were installed in fall 2020. Covering all available roof space, the solar photovoltaic (PV) array offsets more than 90 percent of the center’s annual electricity consumption.

The 518.4-kilowatt system consists of 1,296 panels rated at 400 watts each. “The array is expected to produce more than 606,000 kilowatt hours of electricity in its first year of operation,” notes Physical Plant Project Director Walter Durack, who supervised construction.

This project was procured through a request for proposal (RFP) process and was awarded to KW Management of Nashua, NH, based on lowest price and KW Management’s deep experience with similar rooftop solar projects across New England. KW Management was supported by Ted Vansant of New England Commercial Solar Services of Holderness, NH, throughout the project.

“Most of the electricity produced will be used by the PE Center,” noted Vansant. “But on a sunny weekend day when there is lower energy use, the solar energy system will produce more energy than is being used, and the excess will be fed back into the New Hampshire Electric Co-op (NHEC) power lines. This will be measured by an electric meter so that NHEC, through a net-metering agreement, can credit the value to PSU, ultimately reducing PSU’s electricity bill even further.”

“This is an important step toward Plymouth State’s goal of achieving carbon net neutrality for institutional electricity consumption by the year 2030,” said Brian Eisenhauer, director of PSU’s Office of Environmental Sustainability. “It’s truly a win-win scenario that will save money while helping to meet our climate goals.”

In 2009, the University became a charter signatory of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. As part of that commitment, the University developed a Climate Action Plan in 2010 and pledged to reduce campus greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50 percent by 2025 and to make its operations GHG-neutral by 2050.

In 2013, PSU worked with Greener U to develop a Climate Action Implementation Plan. The PE Center Solar Array Project is in accordance with that plan, which provides tangible steps and timelines for achieving sustainability goals.

Construction of the $822,000 system is expected to save the University $100,500 in electric utility charges in its first year of operation. Transitioning the electric supply for the PE Center from the regional electricity distribution grid will reduce the University’s annual carbon emissions by 473 tons, according to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalency Calculator. This is the equivalent of taking 93 passenger vehicles off the road for one year.

Plymouth State University recently launched a new bachelor’s program in climate studies , becoming the first institution in NH, and one of very few in the country, to offer it as an undergraduate degree.

The project provides students with a first-hand view of renewable energy and furthers their understanding of the technology behind it. “During my undergraduate career, I served as president of Common Ground, the student environmental and social justice organization, and I received a minor in sustainability,” said PSU graduate student Briana Stewart. “These experiences helped me evolve into a more environmentally-conscious person in my everyday life and local community, and the new PV array is just another great example of sustainability here on campus.”

“I hear a lot of institutions committing to be carbon-neutral in X number of years, but PSU is demonstrating through this solar array project that it is serious about making carbon net neutrality happen,” added Alyssa Griffin, a meteorology undergraduate student.

Climate change causes, effects, mitigation, adaptation, policy, communication, and education are some of the most important issues of our time, and PSU is addressing the need for trained professionals for private industry and government jobs working in the various aspects of the climate crisis. Plymouth State’s new bachelor’s in climate studies program is the first of its kind in New Hampshire and one of very few in the country.

The program will prepare students for private and public sector careers in fields such as emergency management, conservation, public policy, tourism, science journalism, planning, and a variety of other fields in which climate concerns play a role.

“Climate study is a rapidly-evolving and expanding field, and our program will give students a strong foundation of knowledge and skills,” said Professor of Meteorology and Climate Studies Program Coordinator Lourdes Avilés. “The University’s Integrated Clusters interdisciplinary approach will help students learn to think critically, adapt, and work collaboratively—all essential attributes for our fast-changing world.”

Those wishing to check out Plymouth State’s green initiatives (or just traveling up I-93 through central New Hampshire) are invited to bring their electric vehicles and charge up for free! Two EV chargers are now available on campus. Thanks to NHEC, the installation came at no cost, and, thanks to PSU, the charging is free as well.

To learn more about Plymouth State University online, visit www.plymouth.edu.

Peter Lee Miller is Plymouth State University’s associate director for communications and marketing. His background includes freelance writing for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), advising the Lake Sunapee Protective Association and other organizations, and co-hosting the Society of Environmental Journalists national conference. He teaches a PSU journalism course and hopes to offer Environmental Journalism next spring.

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