Colby College in Waterville, Maine, is installing more than 5,500 solar panels on campus as part of a 1.9-megawatt photovoltaic energy project that is expected to produce 2.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year.
The photovoltaic panels will be arrayed on nine acres of land at the southwest corner of campus and are expected to begin generating electricity in late fall. The college says the panels will produce about 16 percent of the institution's electricity needs.
Colby says the solar installation is the latest in a series of environmental initiatives that have helped the school become one of the first carbon-neutral colleges in the nation.
Since the 1990s the college has generated about 10 percent of its electricity through co-generation at the steam plant by running boiler exhaust through a turbine, and in 2015 it installed a small photovoltaic solar array on the Schair-Swenson-Watson Alumni Center.
That installation generates about 1.4 percent as much electricity as the new project will, but it provided opportunities for maintenance staff to understand the technology on a smaller scale.
“It confirmed that, once they’re installed, these things just sit up there and work for us,” said Kevin Bright, Colby’s sustainability coordinator. “The only real difference in that installation and the one we’re doing this summer is the scale. At its core it’s the same thing.
The solar development firm NRG Energy, Inc. will build the project and own the system. A 27-year agreement will allow Colby to purchase all the electricity at a predetermined rate, with modest cost savings compared with projected costs for purchasing electricity from the grid.