Hobart and William Smith are taking another meaningful step toward climate neutrality with the creation of two local solar farms, which will not only deliver 50 percent of the Colleges’ power through renewable energy, but will also provide new hands-on curricular opportunities for students.
The first solar array, located on Route 14 (Lyons Road) in the Town of Geneva (North of the City of Geneva), will have more than 9,000 solar panels, each capable of powering 10 overhead fluorescent lights when bathed in complete sunlight. The site is a 31 acre parcel with approximately 9.2 acres devoted to solar. The second project on Gates Road in the Town of Seneca will have another 8,070 panels on a 25 acre parcel with approximately 10 acres devoted to solar. The lot is currently used for sorting, mixing and storing construction soils and fill debris, including materials from the excavation of Medbery parking lot in preparation for the Gearan Center for the Performing Arts.
Once completed, the combined arrays will provide five megawatts of power, the largest solar installation at any institution of higher education in New York State. Nationally, the projects will be one of the top 10 largest solar projects on campuses, according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
“Sustainability and environmental leadership have long been important values of the Colleges,” says Associate Director for Planning and Construction Chris Button, who is managing the project. “This renewable energy plan aligns with the Colleges’ goals to reduce our carbon footprint, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help us get to climate neutrality by 2025.”
As a charter member of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, the Colleges have committed to achieving climate neutrality (net zero emissions) by 2025. Currently, 100 percent of the Colleges’ electricity is from wind power. HWS became the first small liberal arts institution in New York to be powered solely by wind.
The Pennsylvania-based solar firm, Dynamic Energy, will construct the solar projects with the Route 14 project beginning in late May, and construction at the Gates Road site commencing in June. A grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) will help support the projects.
“The establishment of the local solar arrays furthers the Colleges’ profile as an environmental leader,” says Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies Tom Drennen, who has spearheaded HWS’ sustainability efforts for nearly 20 years. “Students have wanted more solar on campus for years, but only recently did the economics start making sense. With the strong support from the state, schools and other organizations can actually save money by being green. We hope that this project will show others that they can make the transition to solar as well.”
Completed in January 2016, the Gearan Center for the Performing Arts, for example, was built with sustainability in mind, and has been designed and constructed to achieve LEED status from the U.S. Green Building Council.
In 2015, the Colleges were named to Sierra magazine’s annual list of the greenest colleges and universities, moving ahead 63 spots since first appearing on the list in 2009. HWS ranked No. 53 on Sierra’s “Cool Schools” list, earning the highest possible rating in the categories for co-curricular sustainability programs and initiatives, as well as innovation in sustainability.
The “Cool Schools” recognition followed a number of other accolades that praise the Colleges for leadership in sustainable and environmentally sound practices, including as one of North America’s most environmentally responsible schools featured in the 2015 edition of The Princeton Review’s “Guide to 353 Green Colleges.”
The Colleges have also been named a Tree Campus USA® by the Arbor Day Foundation for the fourth consecutive year.
A story in Rochester, N.Y.’s Democrat and Chronicle featured the Colleges plan to go solar.