Center for sustainability adds solar energy parking structure to campus

By Alieu Jagne ( Jagne is the managing editor for The Campus Ledger and this is his second year at the college. He joined the staff to share his opinions and love for writing with others. He also loves Taylor Swift, dogs and the long walks in the park.

The solar panel parking structure is located on the east side of campus. Photo by Sidney Henkensiefken.

The Center for Sustainability at the college has worked to ensure that the campus remains as green and eco-friendly as possible. With the recycling and composting programs on campus, the center has maintained its reputation for excellence in sustainability leadership.

In the Spring semester of 2020, the center introduced the solar parking canopy project. The project was first introduced 2011, as students wanted to see more solar panels that were not just on the roof. This sparked the idea to create a carport area on campus for students and faculty alike. The Sustainability Project Manager, Michael Rea, was responsible for planning and orchestrating the entire project.

“[This project] actually is a long time in the making,” Rea said. “Students were interested in finding a place on campus to put solar panels that could be seen, not on the roof where they never would have access to them. [They wanted to] actually see them be functional in a way other than just creating power, so we finally settled on the idea of having a canopy somewhere where [people] could park underneath it and provide some protection as well as providing power back to the building.”

This process began around a year and a half ago and while the COVID-19 pandemic forced campus to close, the center continued to work on the project. In the early phases, Rea worked to find a manufacturer that could complete all the necessary elements while also staying within budget.

The canopy is a metal structure that is located on the east side of campus. The structure serves a dual purpose. It provides parking and shelter for students and faculty vehicles and features several solar panels that provide power to the nearby buildings.

“Multiple people had chance to propose their projects and then we choose the one that was the most cost effective and had that ability,” Rea said. “It took probably six months for them to get that built and that started pretty much right with the pandemic started.”

Construction began during the early months of the pandemic; due to the lack of student traffic on campus, it was fairly easy for the canopy to be built. Along with the canopy, the Center for Sustainability has added solar powered composters, chargers and glass recycling bins along with many other sustainable projects.

“I think it’s really important that college campuses start incorporating [those things],” student, Lindi Peterson said. “At my other university, I didn’t feel like they honestly did a ton. There were recycling bins like every now and then, but in my opinion, anywhere there’s a trash can I think there should be a recycling bin like right next to it. If it’s an area where people are eating too, I think there should be compost options for sure, because that’s such an easy thing to do and it makes a big difference.”

Since Rea began in 2010, the college has increased its conversion rate, the amount of waste that goes into recycling bins and actually gets recycled from 18 percent to 60 percent. Meaning that more plastics, papers and other recyclable materials are now getting repurposed for another use. This has greatly reduced the harm of single-use plastics on campus. Students can also see the impact of a more sustainable campus in terms of student scholarships.

“We’re certainly keeping a lot of stuff out of the trash,” Rea said. “Whether it’s being recycled, reused or resold, that’s been one great impact that we’ve seen on campus. It’s also saving money, which goes towards student scholarships; it’s off the charts now it’s I think it’s over $250,000. We save a lot of money by not sending stuff to landfill because our trash cost is reduced.”

In addition to the sustainability projects, the center works with student interaction for elementary school students as well as creating initiatives that benefit the campus. Moving forward, the center has plans to work with electric service company, Evergy. The renewables direct program will help the center reach their goal of becoming a zero emissions campus.

“Hopefully within the next month or two, we’ll be purchasing all of our electricity from a wind farm that’s in Oklahoma,” Rea said. “One of our goals is to become zero emission from our utilities and this gives us that ability to move towards that goal much quicker than we thought. [However,] just because we’re getting wind power doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to keep moving forward with solar [energy]. It really diversifies our power on campus and in the future, we hope to work towards battery storage too, and that can help us with our energy efficiency as well.”

“In my head I typically think that [renewable energy] like solar power seems really expensive,” Peterson said. “But if universities, companies or anyone is able to do that, I think that it’s an awesome thing.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic still having a large impact on certain aspects of the college, Rea is hopeful that a new presidential administration will put a priority on environmental issues.

“Well, the future is going to be different,” Rea said. “Obviously with a new president, we’re going to have some new goals as a nation that can help move forward sustainability. I think that with that ability that’s going to help our processes that we do here. It really gives us the opportunity to have more engagement behind the things that we’re going to do. We really hope that students will understand and be more engaged in our sustainability efforts on campus.”

For more information regarding the Center for Sustainability and their projects, make sure to check out their website.



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