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Santa Clara U Adds Major Solar to Rooftops in Zero-Capital Outlay Deal

Santa Clara University has just gone live with a new 967.68 kilowatt solar energy system financed through Perpetual Energy Systems. Perpetual, a division of Alliant, funds renewable energy projects. The system, which is the second one added to the university's solar array, is expected to generate an estimated 1.42 million kW hours of energy in its first full year of operation. Over its lifetime, the use of solar energy generated by the new system is expected to eliminate about 23,000 tons of carbon dioxide, akin to reducing the use of 2.4 million gallons of gasoline.

The systems are located on the rooftops of an event center, a recreation center, and a parking garage.

In 2007 the university installed a 50 kW system on its main facilities building. The total solar capacity of the two installations sets the school at about the 15th largest in the country among colleges and universities, according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

Santa Clara U signed a national power purchase agreement with Perpetual, which enabled the university to host the solar installations without any capital outlay. Under the agreement, the institution will buy the solar energy produced by each installation at a predetermined, fixed rate. However, the system is owned, operated, and will be maintained by Perpetual.

Perpetual combined conventional financing with federal energy tax incentives to fund the project. The company will retain the renewable energy certificates and environmental attributes generated by the system's actual kilowatt hour output.

"This partnership with Perpetual marks a major step forward in fulfilling our energy strategy goals for clean, reliable, and cost effective energy," said Joe Sugg, assistant vice president for University Operations. "Moreover, it is a strong visual statement of the university's commitment to environmental justice."

Santa Clara U is a signatory of the President's Climate Commitment, in which schools pledge to reduce their output of greenhouse gas emissions. It's also a participant in the Solar Decathlon, a two-year school competition to learn sustainable building practices. And it recently introduced a renewable energy graduate certificate program. In its Climate Neutrality Action Plan, which was submitted as a draft in January 2010, the university committed to purchasing or producing at least 15 percent of its electricity consumption from renewable sources, including solar- and wind-generated energy within a year of signing the plan.

Currently, Perpetual is working with Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and the University of Delaware in Newark on similar projects. It previously funded a 1.15 megawatt system installation at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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