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Huge Solar … just in time for Schools

Groundbreaking for Hampshire College’s 4.7 MW solar array is underway. Courtesy photo.

Groundbreaking for Hampshire College’s 4.7 MW solar array is underway. Courtesy photo.

By George Harvey

Hampshire College’s New Solar System

In 2015, Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, announced it was planning to be the first liberal arts college in the United States to be powered entirely by its own solar photovoltaic (PV) system. Now, it is making good on that promise.

The college is using 19 acres of its campus property to site the 4.7 megawatt system. The project is being built by SolarCity, which will also operate it. Solar Design Associates of Harvard, Massachusetts, provided design work.

Chelvanaya Gabriel, a Hampshire College staff member who served on the planning committee for the project, addressed concerns about putting solar panels on land which had once been agricultural land. She pointed out that the land can be used for agriculture again, when the college decides to re-purpose it in the future.

Groundbreaking for Hampshire College’s 4.7 MW solar array is underway. Photos courtesy of Hampshire College.

Workers prepare for Groundbreaking for Hampshire College’s 4.7 MW solar array. Photos courtesy of Hampshire College.

Readers of Green Energy Times may remember earlier articles on Hampshire College’s sustainability efforts. “Coming Soon to a College Near You” appeared in the October issue of 2015, describing the college’s Hitchcock Center. In August of 2015, we had an article on the R. W. Kern Center, called “This is How You Do It.” Very remarkably, both of these buildings, under construction simultaneously at the same college, were designed to meet the Living Building Challenge (LBC). This represented the only time a single institution had two projects underway declared for the LBC.

Clearly, Hampshire College stands out as a unique environmental leader in more than one way. (Does this allow it to be called very unique? Perhaps Hampshire College will provide not only environmentalists but experts on English usage with new guidance.)

Hampshire College stands out as a great example of an organization that “walks the walk.” The solar project is expected to save about 3,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. And by the way, for those who worry about the high cost of renewable energy, it is also expected to save the college about $400,000 each year.

The Largest School Solar System in New York

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has announced completion of New York’s largest solar project so far at a public school in Avon, a rural town of about 7,150 people south of Rochester. The project is expected to save $1.6 million in electricity costs for the Avon Central School District, which has 1,000 students in kindergarten through grade 12.

 Central School District 1.5MW solar array

Central School District 1.5MW solar array. Photo courtesy of NYSERDA.

The project is part of the governor’s strategy on climate change called Reforming the Energy Vision (REV). The goal is for the state to get 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The program’s success is already seen in a 600% growth in the solar market, with 105,000 low-income households having permanently cut their energy bills with efficiency, and thousands of jobs created. The REV website,, has more information

Speaking of REV and the Avon School project, Governor Cuomo said, “New York State is leading the way in developing clean energy alternatives to help communities lower costs and reduce their carbon footprint.” He added, “This project is another example of how we are taking action to preserve our environment and create a cleaner and greener New York.”

Avon Middle School. T

Avon Middle School. 

The Avon Central School District’s project is a 1.5-megawatt ground-mounted PV array. It will produce enough energy for about 250 average homes each year. Its reductions of greenhouse gas emissions will be 927 metric tons each year, the equivalent of taking about 200 cars off the road.

New York’s Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul spoke at the ribbon cutting event in Avon. “Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York State is making real strides in developing a clean energy system that encourages greater use of renewable energy and energy efficiency,” she said. “In addition to helping this school district reduce energy costs, the solar array will be used to educate students about solar and clean energy.”

A NY-Sun initiative provided incentives totaling about $564,000 to support the project. The initiative is intended to advance growth of a sustainable, self-sufficient solar industry in New York. Avon’s array is off-site and uses remote net metering to earn the credit to the school district for the energy it supplies the grid. This should give the system about $1.6 million in solar credits over a 25-year period.

The project is being developed through a power purchase agreement with WGL Energy Systems, which will continue to own and manage the solar array. Under the agreement, the school district paid no upfront costs for the solar project and will pay a fixed rate for the energy produced by the solar array. In addition, the Avon Central School District is working with WGL Energy Systems to design a curriculum around the solar project and its educational components.

Avon High School

Avon High School

This not the school district’s first solar project. It has a 5.5-kilowatt system installed on two school rooftops in 2008. When that array was installed, the district also got LED lighting and motion sensors so lights would go off automatically when no one was using them. A capital project also reduced electric use for heating and operating the swimming pool.

New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has provided funding for 92 public school districts and private schools in the state. K-Solar, a public-private partnership of the New York Power Authority and NYSERDA have 318 school districts registered for competitive selection of private developers and help with permitting processes and technical and administrative support.

New York State’s support for the solar industry has produced impressive growth in the industry. The state currently has over 8,250 solar workers, an increase of more than 3,000 since 2013. It is anticipated that an additional 1,000 jobs are to be added in the industry this year.

2 comments to Huge Solar … just in time for Schools

  • Hey great post! I hope it’s alright that I shared it on my
    Twitter, if not, no issues just let me know and I’ll remove it.

    Either way keep up the good work.

  • Thank you and thanks for sharing it in Twitter. Only, please make sure that it links back to Green Energy Times.

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