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Butte College Goes 'Grid Positive' with Solar Energy

Butte College in Oroville, CA said it has made history this week by becoming the first institution in the United States to go "grid positive." The Northern California college, which has about 14,000 students, now generates more electricity from its solar arrays than it consumes and will deliver power back to the electric grid.

The two-year college estimated that it will save between $50 million and $75 million over 15 years, even after accounting for project costs and interest, by eliminating its electricity bill, getting paid for excess electricity production, and avoiding future electricity rate increases. In a statement, the college said it expected to parley these savings into improving student offerings and increasing enrollment.

The campus, which sits on a 928-acre wildlife refuge, operates 25,000 solar panels that will generate more than 6.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year--enough to power about 920 average-sized homes.

"Butte College has had a longstanding commitment to sustainability. Achieving grid-positive status marks the culmination of years of effort to build Butte College's supply of solar power and to improve energy efficiency on campus," said President Diana Van Der Ploeg in a statement.

The institution's success with sustainability efforts are attributable to many factors, Van Der Ploeg added: student engagement at the college and in the community, integration of sustainability topics into the curriculum, workforce development projects focused on green jobs, LEED-certified buildings, sustainable land use management, renewable energy and energy efficiency, and operation of the largest community college student transportation system in the state. She noted that the campus also recycles 75 percent of its waste and operates like a small city with its own water and sewer treatment plant.

"I've asked community colleges to become more entrepreneurial and seek out new and innovative ways to generate revenue and to cut operating costs," said California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott. "Butte College dramatically accomplishes both of these goals by becoming grid positive. Furthermore, this college's solar arrays will train workers for jobs in the green energy field--an outcome that will help California's economy and recovery."

The college implemented its first solar energy project in 2005 and its second one in 2008.

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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