NorCal College to Save $150M by Going 'Grid Positive'

NorCal College to Save $150M by Going 'Grid Positive'

Image CC licensed by Flickr Aaron Gustafson

Butte College in Northern California will begin generating more renewable energy next year than it uses, saving the school an estimated $150 million over the next 30 years.

The Butte College Board of Trustees gave the campus the go-ahead to finish a major solar energy project next year that will push the school's generating capacity to 4.55 megawatts (DC). This will avoid more than 6.9 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

Roughly 15,000 photovoltaic panels will cover parking spaces and roofs to generate the green power. This is in addition to 10,000 existing solar panels that now generate 1.85 MW. The school said the combined installations will make Butte College the only college in the U.S. that produces more solar energy on-site than it uses.

"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 Butte College President Diana Van Der Ploeg in a statement. "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."

The $17 million project is scheduled for completion in May 2011. A low-interest loan in the form of federal Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBS) will cover $12.65 million of the final price tag, with the rest coming from the college, which is located on a 928-acre nature preserve.

The project will also be used to provide job training to students. Several workers for the project are now apprentices who went through Butte's solar installation training program. The school also offers coursework in green building, solar hot water installation, and energy fundamentals.

The rural college functions as a self-contained city, with the state's largest community college transportation system, its own water system and sewage treatment facility. It has one LEED-certified building, with another awaiting approval.

Image CC licensed by Flickr Aaron Gustafson.