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Sierra College selects the sun for its energy needs

Solar facility built in Rocklin; work continues in Grass Valley
By: Gloria Beverage, Placer Herald Editor
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Sierra College students have gained access to more than 300 covered parking spots on the Rocklin campus.
More importantly, the college has found a way to lower its huge utility bill on the Rocklin and Grass Valley campuses.
The carports are actually part of an extensive solar system installed over the summer by Borrego Solar Systems, Inc. In addition to the covered parking lot on the Sierra College Boulevard side of the campus, the photovoltaic system includes components on top of the Campus Center and the Bookstore.
The third phase currently under construction is a solar photovoltaic system on the Grass Valley campus.
The zero-emission systems will be operated and maintained under a Power Purchase Agreement with the San Diego-based company, explained Gary Buchanan, commercial project management for Borrego.
According to Buchanan, the public/private partnership agreement allows Sierra
College to avoid the upfront cost of financing the solar installation and equipment.
In return, the district has agreed to purchase approximately 1,883,400 kWhs of clean energy per year at below-the-grid rates in the first year of operation.
Initially, this could result in savings of nearly $50,000. Over the term of the agreement, the district could save nearly $2 million in energy costs.
“This project and partnership offer many benefits,” said Sierra College’s President Willy Duncan. “It will reduce our utility costs in a time of declining resources which will allow for more dollars to stay in the classroom.
“It is a step in the right direction toward using a clean, efficient energy source,” he continued. “Not to mention the fact the students love the covered parking.”
Duncan acknowledged that by parking in the lot he has gained another benefit — exercise in the form of a long walk to his office.
Sierra College Board of Trustees President Aaron Klein indicated that he and board member Nancy Palmer brought the idea to the board in 2008.
While at a trustees’ conference, he said, they heard about a college that was benefitting from a solar system on its campus.
“We went through a lot of presentations and heard ideas from vendors,” he said. “Finally we went through the competitive bid process. We didn’t have the money to put into the project and we weren’t going to ever have the money. Ultimately, we were excited that Borrego was able to step up and deliver on what they promised.”
While the Rocklin campus will still rely on some traditional electric utility service, the Nevada County campus will be completely off the power grid when their solar system is completed, Klein said.
In addition to the environmental benefits, Buchanan pointed out two other gains. Students from the college’s photovoltaic program were given an opportunity to learn while working on the project. And several jobs were created for Sacramento area workers.
“We’re very big in the educational market,” he said. “We do a lot of PV installations on college campuses throughout California,” Buchanan said.
The company claims that over 20 years of production, the zero-emission systems will offset more than an estimated 72 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions (CO2) that would have been emitted during the production of electricity from fossil fuels.
That equates to planting 648 acres of trees or conserving nearly 106,758 barrels of oil.
“We are thrilled to have been selected by Sierra Community College to be part of these projects and be able to help them take advantage of the long-term financial and environmental benefits of clean, renewable solar power,” said Mike Hall, CEO of Borrego. “Additionally, we are excited to do our part in helping to prepare students for future careers in clean technology fields.”
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Just the solar facts:
Overall system size:
972kW DC
Parking lot: 888.16 KW DC. Provides 304 covered parking spaces
Building J Campus Center: 54.6 kW DC
Building K Bookstore: 29.1kW DC
Installations will reduce Carbon Dioxide emissions by 72,048,961 lbs.
Energy savings to college district: nearly $2 million