Solar panels could save campus nearly $1 million per year

TEMP ORARY November 4, 2011 0

Just how green is Elizabethtown College? According to a proposal made recently by Facilities Management to the Board of Trustees, not green enough.
Solar photovoltaic energy – better known as the energy we get from solar panels – is just the latest upgrade Facilities Management is fighting to implement on campus. If the proposal is approved, solar panels will be installed on eight campus buildings, providing 70 percent of our energy for electricity. Right now, the College’s annual electricity bill falls around $1.4 million.

“We would have locked-in electricity costs for twenty years, and after that, free electricity when the panels are paid off,” said Director of Facilities Management Joseph Metro, one of the leaders behind this proposal.

This project has been in the works for four to five years, during which time Facilities Management has been busy applying for grants in hopes of getting the financing to make their idea reality. Now, due to Pennsylvania Act 213, which requires electric companies to increasingly provide their customers with energy from alternative sources, global powerhouse Siemens has offered to do the work in accordance with the earlier twenty-year plan mentioned by Metro.

For years, Facilities Management has been taking steps to keep our school on the cutting edge of conservation technology. Motion sensor lights, for example, erase the eventuality of human fallibility in leaving lights on. Metro described his experience of entering Nicarry Hall and finding all the lights turned on with nobody there to make use of them. With motion sensors, this unnecessary energy drain is no longer a concern.

Most of the heating and cooling systems in the campus buildings run on occupied or unoccupied settings– when a room is occupied, the heat/air conditioning kicks on to make the temperature comfortable; when a room is unoccupied, the systems know to not work as hard. In addition, with maintenance rooms being the most expensive to build and maintain, the Hoover Center, Wenger Center, and—thanks to this summer’s construction—Zug Hall and the High Library, all run on the district system generated by Nicarry Hall. No boilers or coolers are required — except in Nicarry — just pipes and a pump in each building.

This advancement is especially important because Zug and the High Library are the two buildings on campus that consume the most energy. Now their energy consumption has been cut by more than half. Pipes have also been laid in preparation to include Ober and Myer Residence Halls in this system, an undertaking projected for next summer.

Baron Wanner, who works in Facilities Management, explained the College’s innovative monitoring system that controls this energy-saving technology. From one computer screen, Facilities Management is able to see what setting (occupied or unoccupied) any heating or cooling system is on, down to the exact temperature in a particular room, including dorm rooms. The temperature can even be adjusted from inside the Brown Building, where Facilities Management is located. The quality of indoor air can be monitored, and outside lights, including the track lights and field lights, can be controlled from Wanner’s desk.

According to Wanner, these systems allow Facilities Management to be “more proactive than reactive” — thanks to the interconnectedness of our school’s green technology, problems can be anticipated and prevented, rather than cleaned up in the aftermath.

Students interviewed about the sustainability of the College community and the potential installment of solar panels reacted positively, and even had further suggestions.

“We should get sheep so we don’t have to mow the lawn,” first-year Abby Flinchbaugh said, following up with, “But seriously, I think solar energy is really important for our economy and the future of our country.”

First-year Tori Giaquinto agreed. “Twenty years seems like a long time,” she said, “but with a project like this, the benefits far outweigh the costs. All good things take time.”

First-year Noel Abastillas added yet another angle to the benefits the solar panel proposal could bring to Etown if approved. “The lack of green energy systems in some schools project an unflattering image. Being a liberal arts university, we should be aware of progressive ideas that can help the world.”

With gas prices going up, and the possibility of an oil crisis on the horizon, do solar panels offer insulation for our college community? Facilities Management thinks so, but the decision is ultimately up to the Board of Trustees.

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