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Ithaca College Makes Its Solar Move

February 23, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

ithaca_solarIthaca College, which is in the town of the same name in upstate New York, announced yesterday that it is building a 9,215 panel solar park about 40 miles away from the campus.

The project, which is about 75 percent completed, will supply 10 percent of the school’s energy, which is enough to supply three academic buildings and one residence hall.

Construction began in December and is expected to be complete during the summer. The panels will operate at the 3.55 mWh level and produce 2.9 MW of energy. About 888 metric tons of carbon dioxide will be displaced annually.

The college, which has about 6,800 students, has entered a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with Greenwood Energy. OneEnergy Renewables and Borrego Solar Systems are co-developing the solar park for the school, which is in Seneca, NY. The metered energy will be fed into the grid and the school will receive the appropriate credit.

OneEnergy received a $1.6 million energy grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). That, the school said, will cover about 25 percent of the project’s development and building costs.

This type of projects is increasingly common.  There is, however, a great deal of variety in how they are set up and negotiated,  according to Gerald Hector, Ithaca College’s Vice President for Finance and Administration and Jerone Gagliano, the Director of Energy Management and Sustainability.

Hector told Energy Manager Today that the process of negotiating with the various parties was “interesting” and a bit different than other deals that he has been party to in his work with the school. “The time it took to get various approvals and agreeing on what the rates would be was a lengthier process than we are accustomed to,” he said.

The key, as in any negotiation, is to keep the organization’s best interest at heart. “It all comes to managing risk,” Gagliano said. “It is a big endeavor. The thing for us is that we can’t take advantage of the tax credit as a college. The PPA is a good economic vehicle. Between taking advantage of the incentive and the tax credit, everyone wins.”

Unlike older types of relationships, there is room to maneuver in the process, which usually includes many players. “It is important to manage what you want to get out of it,” he said. “You do have room to negotiate. Think about what you 25 years down the road, which is the typical term.”

Colleges and universities often are one of the leading sectors in the renewable energy space. Ithaca College, for instance, has had a Climate Action Plan in place since 2009 that aims to make the school carbon neutral by 2050. In addition to a philosophical tendency to move to renewables, colleges and universities often have room on campus for solar panels.

There also are softer benefits that may not be as apparent. Hector said that the academic departments will have access to the data collected during the metering. Gagliano said that it is possible that in the future students internships can be part of the negotiating process.

The bottom line is that the use of renewables in academic settings is a trend that will continue to grow. “We are educating future leaders,” Gagliano said. “Renewable energy is going to be with us…This is as sector that continues to evolve and needs to have people with experience. As an educational institution we must be good citizens and get people trained and exposed. That’s how we see it and how it fits into our climate action plan.”

The bottom line is that net metering, PPAs and other creative ways of financing renewable energy and procuring the power produced have not yet fully coalesced. “It’s a space that still is being explored,” Hector said.

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