Photo courtesy of Principia College.

ELSAH - Principia College is in the process of installing a solar farm to power their campus.

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The 1.65-megawatt solar array will cover about six acres. Dr. Nicholas Johnson, Assistant Professor in Sustainability and Economics and Chair of the Principia College Department of Sustainability, explained that this is part of Principia’s plan to eventually achieve carbon neutrality.

“This matches our values and puts our money where our mouth is,” Johnson said. “The array will cover something between 25–30% of our electricity consumption, so it’s good.”

The college aims to complete construction by summer 2025. The goal, Johnson explained, is to help the environment through Principia’s “energy master plan.” While there are the immediate capital costs, the array will minimize the college’s electricity costs.

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“With the array you have the capital costs, but then it will save us over $100,000 a year in electricity costs, which is also helpful. Prices go up and down, but you don’t have any uncertainty about that portion of your costs because you’ve already paid it,” Johnson explained. “And then the cells last effectively forever. They slowly degrade over time, but it’s just free electricity for a long time. You have to upgrade your inverters and so forth, they have to be replaced, but it’s every 10 or 15 years. It’s a low cost. So for us, this is one stop.”

Johnson said the process of installing the solar array has been “slow and intentional,” with extra time and costs taken to make sure the array was installed ethically. The college purchased more expensive Korean cells versus Chinese cells because of labor rights violations in China. They also plan to plant native grasses and pollinator plants underneath the solar panels so they can benefit the local environment.

While the solar array will help the college’s electricity costs and minimize the combustion of fossil fuels, Johnson hopes it will also encourage students to think about their electricity consumption.

“Students can actually see where some of their energy is being generated and gain some experience with that, and then we can use data in classes…and we can use that data to kind of help them think through their carbon footprint,” he said. “Educationally, [it’s] helping students use less energy and to kind of think through when we are using energy and resources.”

For more information about Principia College, visit their official website at PrincipiaCollege.edu.

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