North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) held a groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday celebrating the construction of one of the largest solar arrays at a community college in the country.
State and local officials, members of the NIACC Board of Trustees, and others close to the project gathered to ceremonially break ground on the project in front of one of the arrays on the east side of campus. This project is a collaboration between the College and a private investor utilizing solar tax credits to build the initial infrastructure. The College will purchase the solar arrays from the investor in five years. The savings estimates for the NIACC Solar project are approximately $392,200 a year, or 58% of the campus’ current consumption.
The new solar arrays will be located in a number of areas across campus. The five ground arrays will be located near Campus View Student Housing, southwest of McAllister Hall, west of the Facilities building, east of the Rec Center, and at the Campus Farm. The four rooftop arrays will be located on the Administration building, Activity Center, Auditorium, and at the Campus Farm.
“This new solar array will be transformative for the college in a number of ways,” said Steve Schulz, NIACC President. “Visually, the four large ground arrays are easily visible from a number of places on campus, but more than that, the energy savings to the campus will be considerable. This project is a socially responsible investment and underscores the College’s ongoing commitment to sustainability and doing our part to protect the environment.”
NIACC’s project will utilize 5,800 BiFacial modules. Traditional solar modules (panels) capture light on one side only, the front portion of the panel, and the light that cannot be captured is simply reflected away. BiFacial modules, however, have solar cells on both sides, enabling the panels to absorb light from the back of the module as well as the front. NIACC’s ground and rooftop arrays will produce more energy throughout the day from the reflection on the backside of modules as well as from snow covered ground and white roof surfaces. BiFacial Modules yield up to 11 percent more energy than traditional solar panels in a ground mounted installation, and yield up to 7 percent more energy in a roof mounted installation.
“NIACC has a long history of being committed to purchasing and using energy in the most efficient, cost effective, and environmentally responsible manner possible,” said NIACC Facilities Director Tony Pappas. “This solar project is one more example of our commitment to energy conservation and environmental stewardship. Reducing our utility costs by utilizing solar energy will provide direct financial support to all other college operations and will complement the academic programs and community events for many years to come.”
This project will reduce campus energy costs by approximately $10.7 million over the next 25 years.