UMass Amherst Installing More than 15,000 Solar Panels to Reduce Emissions, Cut Electricity Costs by $6.2 Million

AMHERST, Mass. ­– The University of Massachusetts Amherst has embarked on a major solar energy initiative that will cut its electric bills by $6.2 million over 20 years and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 31,000 non-metric tons of carbon dioxide.

At no upfront cost to itself, the university is installing 15,576 photovoltaic panels across campus to provide 5.5 megawatts (MW DC) of clean renewable electrical power at heavily discounted rates. The total annual generation from the new installations is estimated to equal the annual electrical energy use of 900 Massachusetts homes.

The eight solar panel installations – six on rooftops and two above existing asphalt parking lots – will be engineered and constructed by Brightergy, a national energy company with offices in Charlestown, Mass. Brightergy, through its partnership with Sol Systems, arranged for project finance, ownership and ongoing maintenance of the solar installations with ConEdison Solutions for up to 20 years. The university will buy all of the electricity from the $16 million project for direct use on campus through a power purchasing agreement. The installations will be completed by the end of 2016.

“UMass Amherst prides itself on being a sustainability leader, serving as a model for campuses and communities across the country,” said Shane Conklin, associate vice chancellor for facilities and campus services. “We are very excited to be moving forward with what we view as an economic, environmental and educational win for our entire community.”

“America’s college campuses often help point the way to the future when it comes to sustainability and renewable energy,” said Mark Noyes, president and CEO of ConEdison Solutions. “We are proud to be helping the University of Massachusetts reinforce its commitment to clean energy and a greener tomorrow.”

UMass Amherst has already cut its greenhouse gases by 23 percent since 2005, in addition to establishing a variety of green initiatives including energy reduction, using sustainable and local foods, composting and promoting alternative transportation. The university holds a STARS Gold designation from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and was ranked among the Top 50 Green Colleges by Princeton Review in 2015.

There are no up-front costs to the university for the solar arrays. ConEdison Solutions sells the electricity to the university at a rate well below market, and as owner, ConEdison Solutions benefits from government incentives. The solar arrays will save the university $89,000 on electricity in the first year, and the savings will grow to average $310,000 per year and total $6.2 million over 20 years.

ConEdison Solutions, one of America’s largest energy services firms, and Sol Systems, a solar energy finance and investment firm headquartered in Washington, D.C., are the project finance partners. Competitive Energy Services of Portland, Maine, provides energy-related consulting services to the campus and was involved in the review and competitive bidding of the program.

Most of the power—4.487 MW DC—will come from the combined 11.6 acres of arrays on steel canopies to be built above parking lots at the Mullins Center and the North Residential Area. The canopies will resemble those already operating at the 192 kW AC prototype installation at the university’s Robsham Memorial Center for Visitors on Massachusetts Avenue. With a clearance of 13 feet, 6 inches, the canopies will allow shaded parking for cars and trucks.

Rooftop installations will be on the Recreation Center, Computer Science Building, Champions Center, Fine Arts Center, police station and bus maintenance garage.

The university will continue to generate approximately 78 percent of its energy at its Combined Heat and Power plant on campus. The new solar power will replace about one-fifth of the remaining 22 percent, which is purchased from Eversource, at a basic saving of about 7 cents per kilowatt-hour.

The savings are greater, however, because the solar power can be applied to peak-time usage, which carries higher rates. “This will cut peak usage charges in half,” said Raymond Jackson, director of the UMass Amherst Physical Plant.

The savings for the university are guaranteed for 20 years; although the actual rate may rise, the difference between the university’s cost and commercial rates will remain, Jackson said. Other project benefits include a reduction in emissions from the regional electric grid by the equivalent of about 31,456 non-metric tons of carbon dioxide over the 20 years. If the university were to become owner of the project, it would be credited with the emissions reduction, which would advance its long-term goals for sustainability. “In year 10, we have the ability to buy the units at a reduced cost,” Jackson said. “By 2050, we want to be carbon neutral.”