UMass Dedicates On-Site Net-Zero Building, Even As Remote 4-MW Solar Roof Goes Live

This week the University of Massachusetts a public system that enrolls about 73,000 students earned some new credentials in environmental sustainability. The university dedicated a net-zero facility at its flagship campus in Amherst on March 22 and; the next day, began receiving power at its Boston campus from a remote, 3.9-MW solar array that has been pegged as the largest operational rooftop installation statewide.

The latter installation, alone, is expected to help UMass-Boston avoid up to $5 million in energy costs over the next 20 years

On-Site Energy

The new, $10 million, 16,800-square-foot net-zero facility, called Crotty Hall, will serve as an economics department building on the Amherst campus, according to a March 22 report by the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

In order to achieve its status as net-zero – a facility that produces as much energy on-site as it uses in a year –the building was constructed with a number of environmental bells and whistles. Among its many sustainable features, the Gazette said, are solar panels on the roof, natural ventilation and lighting, heavy insulation, and a geothermal heat pump.

The land outside of the building has been strategically terraced, so runoff from rain waters the plants.

Crotty Hall is one of 20 net-zero office buildings in the United States, according Pratik Raval, associate director at Transsolar Engineering, which developed the net-zero energy strategy, including all passive and active climate concepts for the buildings; and helped integrate them into the overall architectural design.  . It is designed to use one-fifth of the energy used by the average office building in our climate, he said.

James Boyce, an economics professor at UMass, said that he hopes Crotty Hall will pave the way for new net-zero buildings on campus in the future. “Crotty Hall could really become a new standard,” he said in a speech at the dedication.

Virtual Net-Metered Energy

The new UMass rooftop installation, located on a 430,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution center straddling the Boston/Dedham line, is expected to generate 4.8 million kWh annually.

The site of the array, Boston Business Park, is owned by National Development and is home to large-scale warehousing and distribution companies such as HD Supply, Max Finkelstein, and Gentle Giant.

UMass-Boston consulted with Competitive Energy Services (CES) on the design and placement of the solar array. “CES has assisted UMass Boston with energy related issues since 2011,” stated Zac Bloom, director of Sustainability for the consulting firm, in a formal release.

The five UMass System campuses, combined, represent the largest off-taker of virtual net metering credits in the Bay State; and the 3.9MW solar array at the Boston Business Park will be one of the final PV systems installed in their portfolio – bringing their total off-take to about 50MW.

“The solar array will provide important financial savings to the University and UMass is thrilled to help yet another solar project reach commercial operations in Massachusetts,” said Bloom.

Also involved in the project were Altus Power, Borrego Solar, and National Development. Altus Power owns the solar installation and will sell the energy produced to the UMass Boston through a Net Metering Credit Purchase Agreement.

Virtual net metering is a utility billing mechanism that enables the off-taker to receive energy credits on its utility bill from a remotely-located installation.

“This project demonstrates the remarkable evolution of Massachusetts’ solar market. When we began developing and installing solar here in 2007 there were only 3MW of operational solar plants and virtual net metering had just been enacted,” said Jared Connell, Massachusetts director of Project Development for Borrego Solar. “We’re now able to cost-effectively construct massive roof-top projects that provide significant economic and environmental benefits for all stakeholders.”

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