A plan to use solar panels to power Lincoln Trail College may not only save Illinois Eastern Community Colleges money, it could help train students to work in a growing technological field.
First, however, LTC must be approved for participation in a state program that will drastically cut the net cost of the project.
The IECC board of trustees this week approved a project management agreement with Tick Tock Energy for construction of a solar array at LTC.
The structure is projected to include about 2,100 panels capable of producing 45 percent of the current power consumption of the college. Plans call for it to be installed northeast of Williams Hall, not far from the Ameren Energy substation at Illinois Route 1 and Prison Road.
"This will represent tremendous savings for us in the years ahead," LTC President Ryan Gower said.
Gower added this is a good time to explore solar because of the incentives the state has put into place.
The estimated construction budget is more than $1.47 million, but the net cost could be reduced to $793,756 using solar energy renewable certificates.
The state's Renewable Portfolio Standard commits Illinois to produce 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. A total of 1.5 percent of this power must come from solar panels.
IECC would not qualify for a federal solar tax credit, but solar panel system owners can sell solar energy renewable certificates (SRECs) in the market to brokers and suppliers. The college district could earn one SREC for every megawatt hour produced.
The LTC array could generate $526,961 in SRECs in its first five years, which would bring the estimated net cost of the project down to $793,756. A full return on the investment is expected in eight years.
Also, SREC dollars and savings will be reinvested in energy savings across IECC.
The proposal is for a 796.5-kilowatt array that would produce 47 percent of the campus' current electricity consumption.
LTC's electric costs this year are estimated at $206,356. Use of solar panels could save IECC about $100,000 per year in utility bills.
"This project will result in immediate cost savings to the college in year one, with an estimated total return on investment coming in the eighth year," Gower said. "The dollars that we don't send to Ameren for our power bill every month can be reinvested back into the college in other ways. We are being good stewards of the environment and public dollars."
The annual savings will be invested in other projects to cut energy costs at all four IECC campuses. The colleges are all about 50 years old and modernizing things such as lighting systems will mean even more savings.
There is an academic benefit to installing the panels, too. "The solar array will tie in with new academic programming at the college as we develop classes and certificates in renewable and sustainable energy," Gower explained.
Sustainable energy sources are the future, he said, but there is a real shortage of people trained to install and repair equipment such as solar panels. A new component to LTC's process technology course will provide students with the training they need to work in this growing field.
"We're always looking for was to innovate," Gower said. "This should be a good way of getting out there and being a leader."
If all goes according to plan, students should be able to take the new course beginning next fall.
Gower believes LTC will be accepted into the state program. Work on the solar array should start in March and be operational in August.
"It will be quick," Gower said.
Gower added groundbreaking for the planned addition to the Zwermann Arts Center Theater should also take place in March and the next phase of work on Statesman Park is planned for spring.
"If this project does indeed move forward, Lincoln Trail College will have three major construction or expansion efforts underway simultaneously," Gower said. "Progress on securing funding for the Crawford County Recreation Center is still underway and we continue to lobby the State of Illinois to release the dollars for the Technology Center."
Tick Tock Energy's previous projects have included the installation of a 204-kilowatt roof-mounted array at Flying S Ranch, Palestine, and a roof-mounted array at Parkland College in Champaign.