UMass Amherst Expects Big Savings With Over 15,000 Solar Panels

The University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst is installing 15,576 photovoltaic panels across its campus, and the university says it expects the major solar energy initiative to cut its electric bills by $6.2 million over 20 years.

Totaling 5.5 MW, eight solar installations – six on rooftops and two above existing asphalt parking lots – will be engineered and constructed by Brightergy at no up-front cost to the university. 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 says it will buy all of the electricity from the $16 million project for direct use on campus through a power purchasing agreement, and the installations will be completed by the end of this year.

“America’s college campuses often help point the way to the future when it comes to sustainability and renewable energy,” says Mark Noyes, president and CEO of ConEdison Solutions.

“UMass Amherst prides itself on being a sustainability leader, serving as a model for campuses and communities across the country,” explains Shane Conklin, the university’s 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.”

The university says the solar arrays will save it $89,000 on electricity in the first year, and the savings will grow to an average of $310,000 annually.

“We are thrilled to be involved with the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s forward-thinking decision to execute this watershed project,” comments Brightergy CEO Adam Blake. “This is a partnership with multi-faceted benefits for many, not least of whom will be the students who will have a unique, real-world STEM learning opportunity on campus.”

In addition to presentations and career mentoring by Brightergy, the partnership will offer student access to the Mullins Center parking lot solar array as a learning lab. The agreement with Brightergy is also providing the university with $41,000 in educational funds for UMass Amherst students over the first three years and internship opportunities for four students over the next three years.

UMass Amherst notes it will continue to generate approximately 78% of its energy at its combined heat and power plant on campus, but the new solar power will replace about one-fifth of the remaining 22%, which is currently purchased from Eversource, at a basic savings of about $0.07/kWh.

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

UMass Amherst says other solar 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,” says Jackson. “By 2050, we want to be carbon neutral.”

Rendering courtesy of UMass Amherst: The university’s Fine Arts Center will be one of six campus buildings to feature new solar panels. In addition, solar is being installed on over 11.6 acres of parking areas.


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