By George Harvey
Vermont Technical College has increased its supply of renewable energy and reducing its operating costs with the installation of a 500-kilowatt solar farm. Installation began as soon as the Certificate of Public Good was granted by the Vermont Public Service Board, late last year, and it was completed in just a few weeks.
The project on Vermont Tech’s campus in Randolph Center is comprised of one hundred 5-kilowatt (kW) dual-axis solar trackers, manufactured by AllEarth Renewables, Inc., of Williston, Vermont. The trackers keep the solar photovoltaics on them aimed directly at the sun all day for most efficient use of sunlight.
As one of its programs, Vermont Tech offers a bachelor’s degree in renewable energy. It also offers a number of courses and workshops focused on the renewable energy industry in its continuing education division. Through these programs, students can get first-hand training and experience.
Vermont Tech has the only training in the state that is acknowledged by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, giving it national recognition for its training and credentials. One of the college’s stated goals is to be a model for local renewable energy education and training. This is seen as particularly important because clean energy is becoming such a large part of Vermont communities.
Students at Vermont Tech will have the opportunity for hands-on experience with tracking hardware, and this is made even more useful by the fact that AllEarth Renewables, which manufactured the trackers, is a local Vermont company. The college has other facilities available for the students to study. It has its own 375-kW anaerobic digester, affectionately known to students as “Big Bertha.”
Apart from the educational value of its renewable infrastructure, Vermont Tech will get net- metering credits, saving it money on electric costs. The solar array is expected to provide it with a million kilowatt hours of electric energy per year. When this is combined with Big Bertha’s output and other campus initiatives, the college operations are just about fully covered for electricity.
AllEarth Renewables will maintain the array it installed with no state investment, saving taxpayers the energy costs over twenty years. The Renewable Energy Credits for the Vermont Tech projects are retained and retired in-state.
We might note that the solar system provides electricity to Green Mountain Power at just the time of day when demand is highest. Big Bertha has its own good points, one of which is that it can operate just about full time, providing renewable base-load power.
Vermont Tech President Dan Smith said, “I am enthusiastic about this project and the future of this college as a hub for teaching and learning the vital skills connected to clean energy in Vermont. Degree programs in agriculture, horticulture, environmental engineering, and energy position Vermont Tech graduates to play a vital role in Vermont’s environmental and energy future.”
David Blittersdorf, president and CEO of AllEarth Renewables, said, “We are thrilled to be partnering with Vermont Tech to provide solar power at the Randolph campus. The college site is an ideal location not only to create renewable energy, but also invest in the next generation Vermont workforce.”
It was Nancy Rae Mallery, publisher of Green Energy Times, who got in the last word, when she observed, “Vermont Tech is one totally neat little college.”