Hampshire College aims to go 100 percent solar

August 9th, 2016

Hampshire is hoping to save up to $8 million in electricity over 20 years

Hampshire College has begun installing 15,000 solar panels on approximately 19 acres of its 840-acre campus, toward producing 100 percent of campus electricity from on-site renewable energy on an annualized basis. By its research, Hampshire is the first US residential college to go 100 percent solar.

Hampshire’s two solar-power systems together will have a generation capacity of 4.7 DC/3.5 AC megawatts, enough to power about 500 American homes. They are expected to avoid the emission of approximately 3,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to taking almost 650 cars off the road. Construction of the arrays, representing the largest-known on-campus system among colleges and universities in New England and one of the largest in the Eastern US, is estimated to be completed by the end of this year.

Project partner SolarCity will construct the two photovoltaic (PV) solar arrays, each coupled with a 250 kilowatt (500 kilowatt-hour) battery-storage system. Under the project’s power-purchase agreement, the solar arrays and battery system will be built and operated by SolarCity, and Hampshire will purchase the electricity from SolarCity at a fixed rate that is lower than what the college now pays for electricity.
Hampshire is estimating it will save up to $400,000 per year for 20 years, up to $8 million total in electricity costs.

Hampshire is part of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, under which the college has committed to implementing a comprehensive plan to achieve a carbon-neutral campus. In implementing its Climate Action Plan, Hampshire is also practicing its mission in the areas of innovative research, experiential education, social justice, forward-thinking operations, and environmental action.

“We’re extremely proud of this commitment to renewable energy, and of the social and environmental benefits it provides to our community,” said President Jonathan Lash, a national environmental leader before joining Hampshire and former chair of President Bill Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development. “Despite being a modestly resourced institution, in snow country, we’re going all the way with solar for our electricity.”

Hampshire hopes to help reduce the negative impacts across the region and around the world, especially on disadvantaged communities, of extractive industries, such as hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) for natural gas, construction of pipelines, the effects of oil spills, and the destruction of mountaintops for coal mining, as well as nuclear power.

Education is about preparing students for the future, which will be low-carbon, said Lash. “We encourage our students to question and inquire, and this project loudly asks ‘Why do we accept limits on how we can change the energy system? Why can’t we use solar power wherever we are?’” he said. “We should all be talking about energy use.”

Congressman Jim McGovern (MA-02) and his office have supported Hampshire’s project by attending calls and meetings with Eversource and SolarCity throughout the year, along with State Senate President Stan Rosenberg and his office.

“Massachusetts has a proud tradition as a leader in clean energy. Hampshire College is doing amazing work to support sustainability in Western Massachusetts and these 15,000 solar panels are an exciting step forward,” Congressman McGovern said. “I am proud of Hampshire for their leadership and example on renewable energy and look forward to seeing all the benefits that will come from this smart investment.”

Hampshire College has been planning how to transform its ability to generate electricity since 2014. It conducted a thorough, thoughtful process involving students, faculty, and staff in discussions of land use. After reviewing possible sites for their current and future land use, Hampshire arrived at the choice of the two best locations for its large solar arrays.

The two-year process of project deliverables and approvals required close coordination between Hampshire and many players, among them the planning and conservation boards in the towns of Amherst and Hadley, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, and partner SolarCity.

Since spring 2015, a team from Hampshire has been working with its account manager at SolarCity and the distributed generation group at Eversource, the local electric utility company, to shepherd the project through Eversource’s complex interconnection process and arrive at an agreement. This spring, Eversource completed the required impact studies and approved interconnecting Hampshire’s solar-power systems with the regional power grid.

The College will receive credit for excess electricity sent to the regional power grid, and its system will draw from the grid when necessary. The project will use two separate 500 kilowatt-hour battery-storage systems, one for each solar array, part of a smart energy-storage solution that can be dispatched during times of peak energy demand to reduce overall costs.

Separately, Hampshire has installed three other standalone solar-array projects, approved this year by Eversource for interconnection, at three additional locations: its R.W. Kern Center, the CSA Barn, and the president’s house.

About the Author:

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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