BELLINGHAM - Western Washington University will dedicate its new Solar Demonstration Project - a set of rooftop solar panels and an interactive educational kiosk inside the Viking Union - at 1 p.m on Wednesday, May 21.
The project is almost three years in the making, according to Rose Woofenden, president of WWU's Students For Renewable Energy, the Associated Students club that spearheaded its installation.
"We really look at this is an important stepping stone for further projects. What's important is to say that we did it, and we want to do it again on a bigger scale," she said. "But this is a great first step."
The solar array will consist of 12 panels generating between 1,900 and 2,300 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, depending on the amount of sunlight; this energy will be fed directly into the grid and will help offset the University's electricity costs. However, the project is more about showing how WWU's students are actively engaged in alternative energy sources than in slicing the University's power bill, said Arlan Norman, dean of the College of Sciences and Technology.
"Once again, WWU's students have taken a thoughtful, professional look at how the University can best make use of sustainable alternative energy sources," Norman said. "It was the students who pushed through the concept of the University using 100 percent ‘green' energy, which the University adopted in 2005, and this project is their idea as well."
The interactive information kiosk inside the Viking Union will provide information on how much power the photovoltaic cells are producing as well as explain the system and how it works. The next phase of the project will include system monitors in campus buildings that show how much power the buildings are using, in comparison to what the solar array is generating.
Total cost of the project was about $65,000, which came from cash and in-kind donations from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation ($17,500 of in-kind support related to the kiosk and educational programming), Puget Sound Energy ($15,000 cash for construction and installation), $20,000 from the WWU Foundation's President's Campus Enrichment Fund, and the $13,000 donation of the solar panels, inverter, and racking from Alpha Energy in Bellingham.
Alpha Energy's Derek Nixon has been involved with this project from both sides - as a student and from the private sector - for years. A former president of WWU's Students For Renewable Energy, he helped champion the project in its early phases and assisted in its completion after graduation.
"My work on the Solar Demonstration Project as a student led me to an internship here at Alpha Energy, and, eventually, to a job after I graduated," he said. "I think it's going to be an incredible educational tool that reminds Western students and the community of the University's commitment to alternative energy."
Since fall of 2005, Western has purchased all of its electrical energy through Puget Sound Energy from a 100-percent renewable source in the Pacific Northwest. This was made possible by Western students voting in spring 2004 to implement a student fee to offset the cost of purchasing renewable energy, a first in the nation. This past February, WWU entered into an agreement with Puget Sound Energy (PSE) to give Western students the best possible environmental outcome when purchasing green power by having it come from North Dakota wind farms instead of renewable projects in the Pacific Northwest.
For more information on the Solar Demonstration Project dedication ceremony, call the WWU Office of Sustainability at (360) 647-2491.