More than 5,000 solar panels will be installed on Colby College property off Washington Street in Oakland this year as part of a solar energy project that will be one of the largest in the state.

The array is expected to have a maximum output of 1.9 megawatts and produce 2.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually for the campus, according to Colby officials. That is enough to provide power to about 250 homes, the school said.

The 5,505 panels will be installed on two sites of about 4.5 acres each and lie to the north and south of a storage building Colby built in 2012 at 182 Washington St., which also is the site of the college’s community gardens.

The project will produce enough energy to cover about 16 percent of Colby’s energy needs, diversify its energy supply and create a campus “living laboratory” to offer research opportunities for students and faculty members, said Doug Terp, Colby’s vice president for administration and chief financial officer.

The project is the latest in a history of environmental initiatives that have helped Colby become one of the first carbon-neutral colleges or universities in the country, and it earned the college one of the highest sustainability ratings in the nation, according to a Colby news release.

“Colby committed to sourcing all of its electricity from certified renewable sources in 2003,” the release said. “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.”

Kevin Bright, Colby’s sustainability coordinator, said Wednesday that electrical work for the project will be done between now and August, and structures that hold the solar panels will be installed sometime after that.

“The goal is to have it live in January, if not a little bit earlier,” Bright said.

The solar installation, once it’s completed, would be one of the largest in the state. The state’s largest currently is at Bowdoin College, with 4,420 solar panels and a capacity of 1.2 megawatts, according to Bowdoin’s website.

Trees have been removed on about 2 acres of the site.

NRG Energy Inc., based in New Jersey and Texas, will build and own the solar project, leasing the land from Colby. As part of a 27-year agreement, Colby will buy all the electricity produced at a predetermined rate with modest cost savings expected over the life of the contract compared to projected costs of buying electricity from the grid, according to the release.

As part of the power purchase agreement, NRG pays for the construction and ongoing operating and maintenance of the 5,505 panels, Bright said Wednesday.

For several years, Colby has generated about 10 percent of its electricity at its steam plant by running boiler exhaust through a turbine. Last year a 26-kilowatt photovoltaic solar array was installed on the Schair-Swenson-Watson Alumni Center on campus. That solar array led the way for the current solar installation project.

“It confirmed that, once they’re installed, these things just sit up there and work for us,” Bright said in the news release. “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.”

 


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