California College Going Grid Positive

What exactly is a “grid positive” building or institution? One that meets the net zero profile of creating as much energy as it consumes and going one better by actually generating more energy than needed, and selling it back to the grid. Butte College in Northern California recently announced that they’ll be the country’s first grid positive college by May of 2011, generating slightly more energy than they use, thanks to a new large-scale solar array.

The college recently received approval from its Board of Trustees to complete its Phase III solar project, which will add approximately 15,000 solar photovoltaic panels—or 2.7 MW DC—to its current 1.85 MW or 10,000 solar panels—for a total of 4.55 MW of renewable energy, putting the college on track to be the largest solar producing college in the world. Butte College, which features a 928 acre wildlife refuge, will generate over 6.381 million kW hours per year – enough electricity to power over 9,200 average-sized homes, or the equivalent of removing over 6,000 cars from the road.


image via Butte College

These new 15,000 solar panels will be installed everywhere imaginable on campus, from the college’s existing rooftops to the tops of new solar carports for parking areas and shades for walkways; they’ll also be mounted on the ground. The total funding for the project comes to a total of $17 million, $12.65 million of which will come from federal Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (low-interest loans that can be used for clean energy projects), leaving the college with the remaining $4.35 million portion of the bill.

“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, in a statement. “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.”

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Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

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