On November 28, 2016, Ithaca College’s solar farm began supplying electricity to the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) grid, providing the equivalent of 10% of the college’s electricity needs. Read the joint announcement about the project from IC and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
Here are the answers to some of the frequently asked questions about the project.
1. How large is the system?
The ground-mount solar array is 2.9 MW DC/2.0 MW AC and will generate an estimated 3.55 million kilowatt-hours of electricity in its first year, which is roughly the amount needed to power 500 average-sized homes in New York for a year. The power generated will meet approximately 10 percent of the college’s electricity demand. On campus, that would be equal to powering the Gannett Center, Dillingham Center and Williams Hall academic buildings, along with the Emerson residence hall.
2. What are the associated environmental benefits?
The installation will offset 888 metric tons of CO2 equivalents annually, which corresponds with taking 187 cars off the road or the amount of carbon sequestered by 728 acres of mature U.S. forests each year. These annual offsets move Ithaca College towards its 2050 climate commitment goal of carbon neutrality.
3. Where is the solar farm located?
The solar array is located approximately 40 miles from campus on 15 acres of land in the Ontario County Town of Seneca. The land is zoned for agricultural and will be returned to that use after the installation term concludes. Construction began in December 2015 and was completed in the fall of 2016. The project was built by Borrego Solar Systems Inc., a leading designer, developer, installer and operations and maintenance provider of grid-tied solar photovoltaic systems in the United States.
4. Since the solar array is off-site, how is Ithaca receiving the energy?
One key program utilized for Ithaca College’s installation is remote net metering, which was enacted in New York in 2014 and allows for entities to install solar at an off-site location and receive credits for the energy fed onto the New York Independent Operator (NYIO) grid.
5. How was the installation paid for?
The project was financed through a power purchase agreement, which covers all upfront costs and maintenance, whereby the college buys the clean energy produced from the system owner at a set price over the 25-year term of the agreement. Greenwood Energy, which has developed more than 95 MWs of renewable energy projects in the United States, provided project financing and will own and operate the array.
In addition, Ithaca’s project was the recipient of a $1.6 million New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) grant, which was awarded through a competitive process to OneEnergy Renewables, who co-developed the project with Borrego Solar Systems, Inc. The grant was critical to the project’s financial viability and funded roughly 25 percent of the total cost to develop and build the project.
6. Why has Ithaca College adopted this solar program?
The primary purpose is to help reduce the college’s reliance on fossil fuels, and to move forward on its Climate Action Plan that was adopted in 2009. That plan called for the college to attain carbon neutrality by the year 2050. This is one of several programmatic activities the college has been investigating in recent years as it moves forward with both on- and off-campus initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint. This program is an opportune way for the college to jumpstart its alternative energy initiatives. Additionally, the virtual net energy metering program allows for savings against future electricity bills in the form of credits each year due to the production of energy from the solar array.
7. When and why did Ithaca College consider adopting solar?
In 2007, then-President Peggy R. Williams signed the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment, pledging that Ithaca College would develop a strategy and long-range plan to achieve carbon neutrality. In the fall of 2009, the Ithaca College Board of Trustees approved the Climate Action Plan (CAP), setting that strategy into motion and committing the college to becoming 100 percent carbon neutral by 2050. Part of the CAP calls for installation of solar PV, and IC has investigated many solar projects, large and small, over the past decade. This project was spearheaded and pushed forward in a large part by Lew Durland starting in early 2013. Durland, who was the college’s director of energy management and sustainability, passed away in May of 2015.
In 1978, Ithaca College installed a small solar system on the roof of the Facilities Administration Building (at that time the Office of Public Safety) through a NYSERDA grant. It was later decommissioned. The college also has geothermal energy for the Peggy Ryan Williams Center and passive solar for the Park Center for Business and Sustainable Enterprise.
In the early 2000s, IC professor of physics and astronomy Beth Ellen Clark Joseph, then-Provost Peter Bardaglio and others worked on renewable energy advocacy and local demonstration projects with Ithaca solar professional and enthusiast Rob Garrity (now with Borrego). This included an inventory of the solar electric and solar thermal potential of all of the campus buildings as well as a meteorological tower installation to study IC’s South Hill wind resource. Building on this momentum, Lew Durland and the IC team, seeing the unique solar opportunity with both remote net metering and the NYSERDA funding opportunity, moved ahead and made this clean energy project a reality.
8. What are some of Ithaca College’s key sustainability achievements?
Ithaca College is a charter member of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, and for seven straight years has been named in the Princeton Review’s list of top “green” colleges.
In 2011, Ithaca College became just the second academic institution in the world to have two newly constructed buildings earn a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council when the Peggy Ryan Williams Center joined the Dorothy D. and Roy H. Park Center for Business and Sustainable Enterprise in achieving that designation. The Athletics & Events Center and Classroom Link corridor have both earned LEED Gold.
In the past few years, Ithaca College made great strides in managing its energy by sub-metering the majority of buildings. This real-time monitoring provides the backbone for improving and maintaining optimal energy efficiency across the campus. It will give the college the opportunity to take part in energy efficiency competitions, be the basis of sound efficiency investments and provide verification of the return on investment.
For more information on Ithaca College’s green initiatives, visit www.ithaca.edu/sustainability/.