Five years of sustainability advocacy – and $50,000 – have finally resulted in the accomplishment of a long-standing goal: solar panels have been approved for installment on the roof of the new Heiser extension.
An ambitious solar energy initiative back in 2012 was the spark that created the Council of Green Affairs (CGA), a branch of the New College Student Alliance (NCSA) that has grown exponentially in the past year, resulting in several new paid positions and a food forest.
The primary goal was to get solar panels on top of some structure on campus. The original candidate was Four Winds, but the building was deemed too old to hold.
More logistical complications arose, years passed, and still no solar panels. The momentum that had gone into getting the project off the ground went idle.
Luckily, a key piece of the initiative was quietly gathering money for when the day came. The Green Fee – a $28 fee students pay yearly – was getting green indeed.
Around last Spring, the Green Fee had stacked up over $70,000, every dollar of which is reserved for sustainable campus initiatives. One iconic project sponsored by the Green Fee is the food forest, spearheaded by thesis-students Jay McWilliams, Gardening TA, and Orion Morton, Vice President of Green Affairs (VPGA).
“The reason we had so much money is because people kept saving it to spend on solar panels,” Morton said. “It was piling up and there wasn’t yet a tangible means of getting solar panels so we started spending it on other projects.”
By happy coincidence, the peak of the Green Fee’s accumulation coincided with Heiser’s expansion, providing the right circumstances to invest in solar-powered infrastructure.
“These panels are symbolic, partly because getting solar panels was the primary goal of the CGA literally at its genesis,” Morton said. “It’s satisfying to finally complete what it’s initial goal was and that can be part of our image now, so that as we build new buildings in the future this is a precedent for that.”
The Green Fee is the sole sponsor of Heiser’s new solar panels, making them an entirely student-funded eco-project. $50,000 was decided on as the middle ground figure that would maximize the impact of the panels while balancing other, ongoing sustainable projects.
“We can add more [panels] later, in future years, as funds become available but this is a start and everything helps,” Physical Plant Project Manager John Milton said. “We’re putting the infrastructure in for future additions.”
The solar panels will cover 10 Kilowatts of electricity an hour out of Heiser’s 300-400 Kilowatts an hour, averaging an hourly 5 percent energy coverage for all of Heiser. Though this may seem small, it is making an appreciable dent in Heiser’s monthly electric bill – the highest campus-wide.
“Heiser is a laboratory building- the labs are high energy users because we have to condition a lot of the air because of the chemicals being used we can’t recirculate the air,” Milton explained.
With 50 grand unanimously approved by voting members of the CGA at the last allocation session, the Green Fee will come close to being spent by the year’s end – which was the goal at the beginning of the year, Morton says.
“It’s actually been the easiest Green Fee project that we’ve had to fund,” Morton said. “I just had to meet with Physical Plant. They’re motivated to make this happen and they’ve been really helpful throughout. It was as simple as agreeing on $50,000.”
While the Green Fee (and by extension, all students) covered financials, Physical Plant took care of the logistics. Local solar company Brilliant Harvest was hired to design and install the panels and Tandem Construction to build the base for them.
Solar energy initiatives are not only ecologically savvy practices but economic ones as well. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Energy revealed that while solar power employment makes up 43 percent of the Electric Power Generation workforce, oil and gas combined makes up only 22 percent.
“Florida has a lot of potential and I think that companies are moving ahead with it, despite the president’s insistence on oil and gas,” Morton said. “Even people who aren’t necessarily environmentalists are realizing that solar energy has a lot more long-term economic benefits than oil and gas does. I mean, right now, just solar alone employs more people than oil and gas combined.”