Now in the final design stages of a 50,000-square-foot solar array, Central Oregon Community College and Sunlight Solar plan to be generating power in August 2016, according to Gene Zingraf, construction manager at COCC.
The planned solar array will save the college approximately 1.6 million dollars and provide clean energy for the campus.
The catalyst for the project was an Oregon statutory requirement that mandates public entities to devote 1.5 percent of construction costs to renewable energy when planning a large construction project. With the bevy of recent construction projects, including the residence hall, culinary institute, and health careers building, that amount added up to approximately $850,000, according to Matt McCoy, vice president of administration at COCC.
The college asked the state if it could combine this obligation into one large project instead of several small projects for each individual building. The state approved this request, and the Redmond campus was selected for the project.
Through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), the college will own the land the solar array is built on to the north of the campus. However, Sunlight Solar will design, own, build, and operate the panels according to Zingraf.
The PPA has numerous benefits. First, the college is not paying anything out of pocket for the construction project, allowing the approximate $850,000 to be used elsewhere, according to McCoy. Additionally, the Redmond campus will be able to purchase that solar power at a highly reduced rate for an approximate savings of $775,000 over 20 years. In total, the PPA with Sunlight Solar will save the college an estimated 1.6 million dollars.
Additionally, the partnership with Sunlight Solar allows the college to maximize its impact. The 500kw array is approximately two times larger than the Oregon statute mandates. In peak seasons, the array will be capable of powering the entire campus according to Zinkgraf.
If there is an excess of solar power over a certain rate, the extra power will be donated to members in the community who struggle to pay for power. If there is a deficit, the needed power will be purchased from Pacific Power at the going rate, according to Zinkgraf.
McCoy believes that renewable energy is good for college to be involved with regarding sustainability. He hopes that the array’s location near the Redmond airport will send a message to the community that solar energy is a viable option in Central Oregon.
“It’s a natural next step for the college to consider taking,” McCoy explained.
The solar array will also be beneficial to those who wish to learn about solar power thanks in part to an extensive data monitoring system. Each building on the redmond campus will have televisions which will display the usage, power production and the cost savings of the solar array, according to Zinkgraf. Engineering faculty will be able to bring up this same data within the classroom.
“It’s a living laboratory if you are interested in learning about solar energy,” McCoy said.
Construction is slated to begin in March 2016 and is to be completed by August, in time for fall term.
Tim Cachelin | The Broadside