B y Jaime Thomas
Green Mountain College flipped on the switch to its new solar panel installation Wednesday afternoon.
About 60 officials, students and other members of the campus community gathered around the 624 panels that were built from mid-October to mid-November. These will generate up to 10 percent of the electricity the college uses in a typical year, according to Kevin Coburn, GMC’s director of communications.
“What we’re really investing in is the future; we believe this technology is the wave of the future,” he said. The project came at no cost to the college; the initiative was financed through a power purchase agreement with a third-party investor, Green Lantern Capitol of Waterbury, Vt., which fronted the $500,000 to $600,000 the panels cost. Green Mountain Power then gives the college net metering credit from panels.
And among the various solar builders in the area, it was Positive Energy out of Granville that was chosen to complete the project. Owner Joe Thomas said planning the installation took more than the work itself.
“We’ve been working with the college for a year and a half. There were a lot of design changes along the way to get to the final project,” he said.
Khanti Munro, Vice President of Positive Energy, said the installation is about 156kw in size, which is equivalent to 30 residential homes
“Essentially that solar farm took off the grid 30 residential homes in the course of a year,” Munro said.
College President Paul Fonteyn described the interconnectivity of the project, which lowers the college’s energy bills while also benefitting the investors. He also pointed out that though the college is carbon neutral, it is constantly striving to become greener.
“The concept here is authentic sustainability. I’m thrilled with the whole thing and the way it’s moving forward. By 2050 our goal is to be no more fossil fuel,” Fonteyn said. He said the project sets an important example for students as well.
“It’s important for students to see all the variety of renewable energy sources. College campuses need to be demonstration places,” he said. He said the project is a good way to get something done in a “win-win” situation for everyone involved.
“I’m still trying to figure out who the loser is,” he joked.
Coburn said the project was a culmination of an effort by many people. Representatives from the various companies involved spoke to the crowd in weather that was freezing and windy—but also sunny.
“It was a bonus that the sun was out. It’s already generating electricity as we speak,” Coburn said of the installation. He said many small partnerships combined for a huge product.
“Through these relationships, the funder, the power utility and we are able to generate more electricity from solar,” he said. “It’s coming from clean, green sources.”
Among the Positive Energy representatives who attended the event was Sarah Fitch, a recent graduate of GMC.
“Students are able to find their niche in the system and market them in the real world,” she said of the campus’s green initiatives.
After speeches alongside the panels, four people gathered around the inverter to physically flip the switch, including GMC board members Bob Allen and Bob Charlebois, Student Senate President Jojo Buss and Facilities Director Glenn LaPlante.