An array of benefits for Green Fee’s newest UAA project

The nine solar panels installed on the Administrative/Humanities building cost roughly $1,000 each to install and program. The project was sponsored by the Green Fee Board, which supports projects proposed by students that demonstrate environmental solutions. Photo credit: Sam Davenport

A proposal by members of UAA’s Green Fee Board requested for solar panels to be installed to help UAA’s electricity costs go down. After approval, nine new solar panels were installed on the roof of the Administrative and Humanities Building in early November.

Alex McLearen, natural sciences major and former chair of Green Fee Board, was excited about the idea of putting solar panels up at UAA.

“When I was in kindergarten, I did my very first science project on solar panels, so I was, like, ‘I should do this!'” McLearen said.

The Green Fee Board advocates sustainability efforts on campus that are environmentally wise, economically sound and socially responsible, through student and board-proposed initiatives.

McLearen and the current Green Fee chair, Heather Jesse, got together and started writing their proposal on adding solar panels to the university at the start of the 2017 spring semester. With an increase in electrical costs, McLearen and Jesse’s proposal seemed beneficial in many ways.

“It was a confluence of stars aligning, if you will,” Ryan Buchholdt, Facilities, Planning and Construction sustainability and business manager, said. “Our electrical utility, Municipal Light and Power, had increased rates pretty substantially; the proliferation of solar panels around Anchorage started to catch a lot more notice from agencies like UAA, we started to see what some of the numbers behind those were; the costs for the panels started to drop dramatically. It really started to hit a point where it, politically and technically, became a lot more viable than in the past.”

The proposal was granted in May 2017 and, as of publication, the solar panels will hopefully be switched on in about two weeks. The panels can save ftom three to four percent of the building’s power in the winter, and six to seven percent in the summer.

“It saves facilities’ money, the university’s money, but also helps save the students’ money because the [electricity] increase will be factored into tuition,” Jesse said.

The board bid out for the project and teamed up with UAA-alumni owned company Arctic Solar. After the approvals from UAA, obtaining permits and other pre-installation work, an array of nine panels were installed earlier this month.

The original proposal was to have the panels on Rasmuson Hall due to Rasmuson’s prominence on campus.

“We had the electricians from Arctic Solar do their mechanical walk-through, and they found that the Administration Building would be easier and cheaper installations, and due to the positioning of the sun, it would actually get a lot more visibility than the Rasmuson,” Jesse said. “They actually underestimated the amount of visibility it would get. The Admin Building is kind of long and the sun reflects off of the snow, amplifying the solar power and hits straight onto the solar panels.”

The panels were funded by the $3 Green Fee which every UAA student taking three or more credits pays as part of tuition every semester. The project cost just under $10,000, approximately one-third of the money Green Fee Board collects per semester.

The panel system includes a “dashboard” capability, where the array of panels will “speak to a web interface” and productivity and data tracking of each panel. Buchholdt hopes that the Facilities office will be able to post onto their website for the public to see in the near future.

McLearen, Jesse and Buchholdt all said that they hope that this project is a way to get their foot in the door of bringing more solar panels to campus.

“An indirect benefit of this project is that I think it shows the university administration that students are interested in investing in sustainable resources and renewable energy,” McLearen said. “I hope the university sees the solar panel project as just the beginning and maybe one day this campus is covered in way too many solar panels and we generate all our own energy.”

The Green Fee Board has recently finished other projects such as new LED lighting in one of the dorm halls, and has plans to bring hydroponic foods to the Daily Den.

“If you have a great idea and you’re not necessarily somebody who wants to spearhead the idea, Green Fee Board is a great place to bring that. But if you are somebody who wants to start a project and see it through to its completion, go to Green Fee Board,” McLearen said.