Unity College has demonstrated its commitment to sustainability through a host of projects.  In keeping with its goal of remaining true to its environmental mission and commitment to sustainability, Unity is pursuing a large-scale solar energy project that demonstrates the viability of solar for college campuses and other non-profits.

Unity College has partnered with ReVision Energy, Maine and New Hampshire’s leading installer of solar hot water and solar electricity systems for homes, businesses, schools and nonprofit, to install solar panels during the month of September atop two buildings on campus.

Unity’s solar project is being financed through a Power Purchase Agreement (or PPA) – an innovative financing approach that allows ReVision Energy – more accurately, a third-party LLC specifically formed to develop this project – to own and operate the system on our campus for six years while we purchase from them any electricity produced by the system.

The 37 kW (kilowatt) 144-panel solar photovoltaic array will be mounted on Quimby Library and the Thomashow Learning Laboratory roofs and is expected to produce about 45,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually – more than 80% of the library’s previous average annual demand.

“This installation is an important visible addition to our diverse energy portfolio which includes an existing 5.4-kW solar array at the Unity House,” noted Jesse Pyles, Sustainability Coordinator at Unity College.

“ReVision Energy is incredibly excited to be working with Unity on this project,” said John Luft, branch manager of ReVision’s Liberty location and a 1993 graduate of the college. “Unity’s commitment to sustainability, on campus and in our greater community, is something we’re proud to be a part of.”

The grid-tied system will send any electricity not immediately used by the library onto the public utility grid, generating a credit for the college to be applied at other times of the year when the solar system is less productive.  This net-metering relationship with the grid means no battery storage is needed on site, and essentially treats Unity’s solar project as a tiny power plant. Any electricity demanded by the library that is not met by the system will be drawn from the grid as normal – electricity that Unity College has offset with the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) since 2002.

“We’re thrilled to be working with ReVision Energy on this project,” Pyles said.  “They have a stellar reputation in the field as the leading solar installers in Maine and New Hampshire, and their team of professional technicians and project managers includes a number of Unity College alums. ReVision Energy is a mission-driven company that makes the extra effort to engage and educate the public about the viability of renewable energy in New England and beyond.”

“To install this array here in Waldo County, right up the road from where we live and work, is especially meaningful,” Luft said. “In many ways, as Unity graduates, we’re coming full circle with this project, all while providing a real-world solution that has a place in our local and national economies.”

After six years, Unity College will have the option to purchase the system from ReVision for a fraction of the original cost.  Once ownership is assumed, the college will own the generated electricity and pay nothing for the electricity it produces into the future.  At the estimated purchase price in year seven, the system will pay for itself in 7 to 8 years from energy cost savings.

“This installation is an important additional step to reaching our climate emission reduction goals and adds another strong component to our sustainability education for all of Unity’s students,” Pyles said. “Additionally, the Quimby Library serves several surrounding towns. Coupled with a highly visible wood pellet heating system, this solar installation makes the library a public demonstration of achievable, alternative approaches to energy in Maine.”

Unity College is a small private college in rural Maine that provides dedicated, engaged students with a liberal arts education that emphasizes the environment and natural resources. Unity College graduates are prepared to be environmental stewards, effective leaders, and responsible citizens through active learning experiences within a supportive community.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012