Solar arrays coming to CSU for Earth Day

Solar arrays on top of the Behavioral Science Building.

Earth day is right around the corner on April 22nd, but anyone who knows CSU, is aware that it’s not just a one day event for the university. CSU joined the Climate Reality Pledge in 2017, setting the goal to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2030. One of the ways of making strides towards that goal is with the construction of twenty-one new solar arrays beginning in April 2021.

This new project will add to the twenty-one solar arrays already located on campus, when complete, CSU will be home to 42 total solar arrays. The first solar array at CSU was installed in the summer of 2009.  I spoke with Stacey Baumgarn, Campus Energy Coordinator, and Carol Dollard, an energy engineer here at CSU about the current project. 

The projected timeline for completion of the new installments is the fall of 2022.  Construction will begin around the time that most students will be leaving campus, however, anyone still on or near campus will be able to see the cranes and the process of the new arrays going up, with the first one being at Laurel Village.Out of the twenty-one arrays, nineteen will be positioned on rooftops, and the last two will be ground mounts. 

One array will be placed over a sheep pasture at ARDEC, the Agricultural Research, located just north of Fort Collins. By being able to place a large array over the pasture allows the land to be utilized for both grazing and renewable electricity generation. As for the sheep, they won’t mind a little extra shade.  “This demonstrates how renewable energy and ag can coexist,” Dollard explained.   

Another array will be installed in the Westfall parking lot in the form of a large canopy over the lot. This design provides shading and cover for vehicles parked under the solar array.  Having different ways and locations to place the solar arrays is important because the campus has many energy-intensive buildings. The reality is, the CSU campus itself does not have enough roof space to produce all the electricity we would need to reach our goal of 100%. This is why a key part of achieving the goals of the climate pledge is that CSU will also rely on partnerships. “At the beginning of this process we did an analysis on the roofs and parking lots across campus and some were taken out because maybe the condition wasn’t good or that we couldn’t afford to replace the roof before we put solar panels on it or, we didn’t know how long it might remain a parking lot,” explained Baumgarn. 

Fortunately, Fort Collins Utilities and Xcel Energy hold similar renewable electricity goals. These utility partners and CSU have benefitted from one another in the last few years. In 2021 50% of the electricity coming from Fort Collins Utilities will be from renewables.  It was only a year ago that 65% was still coming from fossil fuels. Through ongoing utilities efforts and projects like these new solar arrays, CSU plays a part in helping narrow that margin and achieving the shared goals.

An important aspect of the conversation is that even with more renewable electricity, conservation still matters. “The cleanest kilowatt is the one we never use,” said Baumgarn. It is important to consider this thinking as we move into April towards Earth Day, with each of us doing our part by consciously turning off lights and unplugging what is not in use.  Even these simple steps can truly make a difference. 

Going forward CSU will continue to look into ways to increase renewable electricity on campus. In terms of finding space, roofs and parking lots will be reassessed and other CSU-owned lands across the state will be evaluated for potential use. The outlook expressed by both Dollard and Baumgarn is positive and encouraging. In the last ten years, the prices to install renewable electricity have gone down drastically, opening up more and more possibilities going forward. “We can achieve this goal – together” concludes Baumgarn.

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