By: Eric Fisher
NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (abc40) — Smith College is doing a little redecorating while students are away for Thanksgiving break. When they return, a set of new solar panels will have a home on top of the Campus Center.
“We’re putting this on a building that’s really the crossroads of the campus,” says Dano Weisbord, Environmental Sustainability Director at Smith. “It’s a very visible project.”
Normally, the 30,000kWh per year system would come with a multi-million dollar price tag. But in this instance, the project won’t take a dime away from campus coffers.
“Smith agrees to purchase all the electricity from these panels, but we don’t have to pay for any of the up-front costs,” explains Weisbord.
It’s called a power-purchase agreement, and this particular one is with a company called Community Energy. The company will purchase the panels, install them, and maintain them. Essentially, they’re utility just like WMECO or National Grid, except they work exclusively in solar energy.
Smith College is required to sign a deal with Community Energy, saying that they’ll buy all the electricity generated by the panels for the next 20 years. The rate over that time is fixed, and is currently priced competitively to energy from the grid. At a time where budgets are very thin, it’s an opportunity to make a difference without spending any more money.
“We’ll be paying presumably something a lot less than the going rate, so it will save money over time,” says Weisbord.
That’s assuming that energy prices will continue their recent trend of rising over time. Smith will be protected from market fluctuations.
The array itself will produce enough energy to power a full-sized residential building on campus. A useful amount, but not nearly enough to become a complete energy solution. Weisbord just hopes that it will be a visible demonstration of the school’s efforts to lower their environmental impact, and that it’s a lesson students will take away from Smith.
“We want to show that becoming a more sustainable society, reducing our impact on the planet, is an effort that everybody needs to take part in,” says Weisbord.
Smith College has set up a webcam where students, faculty, or anyone else who’s interested can watch the project’s progress. You can find it at www.smith.edu/webcams/campuscenter