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More than 5,000 solar panels will be installed on Colby’s campus with site work beginning in May as the College launches a 1.9-megawatt photovoltaic energy project. The photovoltaic panels will be arrayed on nine acres of land between Washington Street and Interstate 95 around the storage building and Colby community gardens at the southwest corner of campus.

The installation, which will begin generating in late fall, is expected to produce 2.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity each year, approximately 16 percent of the College’s electricity needs.

Doug Terp ’84, vice president for administration and chief financial officer, listed some of the benefits of project: “It will diversify the College’s energy supply, it adds 2.5 million kilowatt hours of renewable electricity to Maine annually, it creates another campus ‘living laboratory’ offering research opportunities to students and faculty, and it serves as another visible sign of Colby’s commitment to sustainability.”

“Colby represents one of many organizations and companies that are driving an evolution in America’s energy mix as they seek cleaner sources of power that provide more certainty over future energy costs.”

Craig Cornelius,
Senior VP, NRG Energy

While the project is large — 5,505 solar panels — it’s only the latest in a history of innovative environmental initiatives that helped Colby become one of the first carbon neutral colleges or universities and earned it one of the highest sustainability ratings in the nation. Colby committed to sourcing all of its electricity from certified renewable sources in 2003. It was credited then for its pioneering role creating a market for purchasing green power in Maine and led the EPA to name Colby a conference champion in its College and University Green Power Challenge for many years.

Since the 1990s the College has generated about 10 percent of its electricity through cogeneration at the steam plant by running boiler exhaust through a turbine, and in 2015 it installed a 26-kW photovoltaic solar array on the Schair-Swenson-Watson Alumni Center. The SSWAC site’s potential was first identified and evaluated by Dan Chiniara ’13 as part of an environmental studies senior research project in 2012.

Colby installed a 26-kW photovoltaic solar array on the alumni center a year ago after a student did research to evaluate that site.

The 26-kW photovoltaic array installed on the alumni center in 2015 produces about 1.4 percent of the power of the proposed installation.

That smaller solar installation, which generates about 1.4 percent as much electricity as the proposed project, provided opportunities for College maintenance staff to understand the same technology on a smaller scale. Further it proved the value to the College of photovoltaic generation and built support for a larger undertaking, said Kevin Bright, Colby’s sustainability coordinator. “It confirmed that, once they’re installed, these things just sit up there and work for us,” he said. “The only real difference in that installation and the one we’re doing this summer is the scale. At its core it’s the same thing.”

The solar development firm NRG Energy, Inc. will build the project on land leased from the College and will own the system. A 27-year agreement will allow Colby to purchase all the electricity at a predetermined rate, with modest cost savings over the life of the contract compared to projected costs for purchasing electricity from the grid.

“We’re proud to have the opportunity to work with Colby College and provide renewable energy solutions to a school that’s already demonstrating an exceptional commitment to sustainability,” said Craig Cornelius, senior vice president and head of renewables at NRG. “Colby represents one of many organizations and companies that are driving an evolution in America’s energy mix as they seek cleaner sources of power that provide more certainty over future energy costs.”

Colby will build an underground electric line to feed electricity produced by the panels into the campus’s electrical grid. All of the power produced will be used on campus.