Posts Tagged ‘Butte College’

By Georges Dyer, Vice President, Second Nature
(This article appears in the June, 2012 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer and originally appeared in The New England Journal of Higher Education on May 21, 2012 )


Preparedness. Opportunity. Innovation. These words capture the essence of higher education’s critical role in creating a healthy, just and sustainable society. Leaders in higher education are standing up to the greatest challenge of our time by providing education for sustainability and preparing graduates to create a sustainable economy. They are providing the opportunity for more students to access higher education by reigning in costs through energy efficiency and smart building. And by demonstrating sustainability solutions on campus, through research, and in partnership with local communities, they are driving the innovation needed for a true and lasting economic recovery.

Five years ago, a small group of visionary college and university presidents gathered to initiate the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). They were motivated by their conviction that higher education had the capacity and responsibility to make a significant commitment to climate and sustainability action for the sake of their students and society.

As the ACUPCC celebrates its fifth anniversary, 677 colleges and universities are currently active members of this dynamic network, representing more than one-third of U.S. college and university students. These institutions across the country have completed hundreds of projects to reduce energy use, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and save money in the process—demonstrating powerful and necessary leadership-by-example for the rest of society.

At the same time, higher education is in crisis. Challenges of accountability, affordability, workforce preparation and relevance are sweeping the sector. The volatile global economy remains unpredictable, with ramifications for every campus. And despite our best efforts, the climate issue becomes more daunting daily.

This month, presidents, provosts and business officers will gather at American University in Washington D.C. for the 5th Anniversary ACUPCC Climate Leadership Summit. The summit will directly respond to these challenges with a theme of Economic Renewal: Jump-Starting a Sustainable Economy Through the ACUPCC.


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Colleges and universities that sign the ACUPCC become part of a vast network of schools leading society towards climate neutrality by implementing climate action plans that address education, research initiatives, community engagement, and campus operations.

On-campus emissions-reducing efforts benefit the environment, the students who gain hands on experience in the field of sustainability, and the institution’s budget. Below are a few examples from ACUPCC campuses:

  • Ball State University has established a closed geothermal energy system with the capacity to cool and heat 45 buildings on campus, reducing their carbon footprint by 50% and saving the school around $2 million in operations costs.  It is the largest system of its kind in the nation.
  • The University of Southern Maine has committed to switch from oil to natural gas by 2025 as a part of their efforts towards carbon neutrality.  This action will reduce their carbon emissions by 1,048 metric tons per year, the equivalent electricity used by 127 homes for a year.  The switch will save USM around $315,000 this year alone.
  • Butte College recently completed installing 25,000 photovoltaic panels on campus, eliminating the need for outside electricity sources and providing them with the ability to send clean energy back to the grid. The solar panels will generate “6.5-million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year”— enough to power more than 9,000 US homes. The College predicts that this investment in solar energy will save them approximately $50-75 million over the next 15 years.
  • Valencia Community College greatly increased its energy efficiency by establishing new chiller plants and constructing three LEED certified gold buildings, one of which has solar panels on the roof that generates 25% of the buildings energy needs.  It is estimated to save Valencia Community College over $400,000 savings a year.
  • The University of Southern Mississippi established a Climate Action Plan that is expected to save the school $273 million in energy costs over a 40 year time period.
  • State University of New York at Stony Brook is reducing annual energy costs by approximately $2.9 million and carbon dioxide emissions by almost 33 million pounds. The university’s Green Campus Initiative is focused on finding new ways to limit environmental impact and educate the campus community on sustainable practices.

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Butte College Solar Panels - courtesy Butte College

Second Nature intern Anne Sjolander writes about this tremendous achievement over on the the Campus Green Builder blog:

With the installment of 25,000 photovoltaic panels on campus, Butte College has eliminated the need for outside energy sources and is capable of sending clean energy back to the grid.

Anne’s post in its entirety is here, read the official Butte College news release here, and find out more about Butte College’s sustainability efforts on their sustainability webpage.

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by Diana Van Der Ploeg, President of Butte College.  This blog article was originally published on the AASHE blog

My eight-year tenure as President of Butte College ends this week on an exciting note: Butte College is now the first college in the history of the U.S. to go grid positive, meaning that we will generate more power from onsite renewable energy than our campus consumes. We are, in effect, our own renewable power plant.

At Butte College – located in Oroville, California, about 75 miles from Sacramento – we began installing solar panels on campus several years ago, and we now have 25,000 of them. Thanks in part to a generally sunny climate in our part of California, our solar panels will generate a combined 6.4 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually. That’s enough to power over 900 homes or take over 600 cars off the road.Butte Solar

Our solar project was completed in three phases – the first concluded in 2005; the second in 2009; and the third this week. In order to get financing on the best possible terms, we relied on lease revenue bonds, where energy cost savings are used to satisfy the debt obligation, for phase one. We relied on bank financing for phase two. For phase three, the largest phase, we used a combination of federal Clean Renewable Energy Bonds and our own funds.

Because our solar panels will produce more electricity than we need, we’ll not only eliminate our utility bill, we’ll also be able to sell the excess electricity back to the power grid. Over time we will see substantial financial benefits – we estimate we could recoup as much as $50 million to $75 million over 15 years – that we can use to help improve academic offerings or expand student enrollment. At a time of tight budgets for states and colleges all over the country, finding innovative ways to save money wherever we can is crucial.

Yet these cost benefits are not the only, or even the primary, reason for our decision to pursue an aggressive renewable energy strategy. We believe that institutions of higher education have a particular responsibility to seize the mantle of environmental leadership. As educators, we are well positioned to demonstrate how we can better manage our use of the earth’s limited resources so that they’ll continue to be available for future generations and how we can reduce carbon emissions in the face of mounting evidence of the threat of global climate change.

When we boost our renewable energy portfolios, improve energy efficiency, reduce waste, recycle, and provide transportation alternatives to commuting by car, we serve as a model for our students and the broader communities we serve. We ask our students to carry that lesson with them after they graduate by signing a voluntary pledge to take the environment into account in their working lives and improve the environmental practices of the organizations where they work.

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On January 10th, 2007 Diana Van Der Ploeg, President of Butte College in Oroville, CA signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), making the institutional pledge to create a plan for pursuing climate neutrality and promoting education and research on climate and sustainability.  They have set a target date of 2015 for achieving climate neutrality.

Last week, Butte announced that it’s latest installation of solar photovoltaics, once completed in May 2011, will make the college grid positive – meaning it will generate more electricity on site than it purchases from the grid each year.  This leading project is another big step toward climate neutrality and sustainability.  Butte’s 2006 GHG inventory shows Scope 2 emissions of 2,942 metric tons CO2e – the updated report that will be submitted this fall will undoubtedly show the sharp drop in emissions associated with grid-purchased electricity due to these efforts.

The $17 million project was funded in large part by Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs) along with funding from the college and support from state and federal rebates and incentives.

President Van Der Ploeg points to active student involvement for much of the college’s success in moving towards sustainability.  This video, from Butte’s day of climate action on 10/24/09 (part of the international day of action organized by 350.org) shows the level of student engagement and creativity:

Raven’s Message from Daniel Dancer on Vimeo.

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