Butte College to Become First Grid-Positive College in the US

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.

"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, a single campus district, is located near the geographical center of Butte County, California.  It has centers in Chico, the largest city in the district, and Orland in Glenn County. Because of its rural location, the college is unique among California Community Colleges because it operates as a self-contained city. To this end Butte College has its own water system, maintains its own sewage treatment facility, and operates the largest community college transportation system in California. The college implemented its first solar energy project in 2005 and its second in 2008.

Website: http://www.butte.edu     
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