NEWS

Bristol Community College adding 420 solar panels to three buildings on campus

Grant Welker

During a tough fiscal period, Bristol Community College has found a way to save nearly half a million dollars a year without cutting jobs or eliminating classes. It also happens to be the same way the college hopes to go green.

The college, which already has more than 50 solar panels covering the roof of its engineering building, has built about 420 more on the Hudnall administration building, Siegel health technologies building, and facilities, or F, building. They will begin creating power by the end of the month.

Most of the savings — both in terms of cost and energy — will come from less visible changes, like installing efficient lighting, better insulation on walls and windows, and a system for automatically raising or lowering building temperatures.

“The less-sexy things really are what subsidize things like the solar panels,” said Jamie Pike, a project manager with Constellation Energy, which audited the campus’s energy use last year and is now working with BCC to ensure the changes go smoothly.

Together, these actions are projected to save BCC about $442,000 a year and cut its energy bill by about one-fourth. The upfront investment of about $5 million was paid by the state.

BCC President Jack Sbrega said the project is central to the college’s efforts to ultimately consume no more energy than it produces.

BCC is part of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which makes colleges responsible for eventually eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, completing an emissions inventory, taking immediate steps to reduce environmental impact and integrate sustainability into curricula.

The solar panels, which aren’t visible from the ground, make for a great educational opportunity, Sbrega said. “We have a laboratory right up there.”

The 10-kilowatt solar panel system installed in January 2008 has saved more than 43,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the environment, according to data compiled for the college. That equals about how much a typical car would emit in the greenhouse gas over a period of more than four years.

The solar panel system BCC is installing now will produce about 10 times as much energy, and save BCC about $18,000 a year.

The most significant savings will be where few, if any, people will notice. More efficient lighting is projected to save $142,000 a year and lighting controls like motion sensors another $11,000, according to an energy audit. The biggest savings will be in temperature-control systems that automatically lower heat or air conditioning at night, depending on the season. Those systems could save $230,000 annually.

Installing controls on beverage vending machines will save another few thousand each year by letting temperatures rise when the machines aren’t being used. “All night, they’re keeping things cold as if someone’s going to just reach in there and grab a drink,” said Leo Racine, BCC’s director of facilities management.

The savings are projected to give a payback on the state’s investment in less than seven years.

Meanwhile, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth is in the middle of an energy audit to find how long it would take to realize a payback on up to $30 million worth of improvements.

Like BCC, UMass Dartmouth is looking to make many small changes, like efficient lighting, new pumps and vents, and new boilers. A few more visible projects are possible there, too, like solar panels on the athletic center’s roof or a renovation of the campus power plant to produce electricity along with steam.

Also like BCC, the university has a wind test tower to measure the feasibility of a wind turbine. Wind data from BCC’s tower so far show a turbine to be “very feasible,” said Steve Kenyon, BCC’s vice president of administration and finance.

E-mail Herald News writer Grant Welker atgwelker@heraldnews.com.