Solar panels to be installed on McIntyre Library

Story by Haley Zblewski, Chief Copy Editor

This summer, the Student Office of Sustainability’s three-year solar panel project will become a reality when photovoltaic solar panels are installed on the roof of McIntyre Library.

The UW-Eau Claire Student Senate passed a bill approving the project by voice vote Monday night.

The project has been in the works since 2010, SOS Director Ellen Sorenson said.

SOS put out an initial report about the solar panels in 2010. The report was created through H&H Solar Energy Services, Inc. and stated the university had good potential for two types of solar technology, both photovoltaics (PV) and solar hot water.

While the Davies Center has a solar hot water system located on its roof, the library will be getting PV solar panels.

The purchase of a 40 kW PV system will cost $166,685 and will be paid entirely by student segregated fees.

“This is the biggest solar panel project that would be going up in Eau Claire as of right now,” Sorenson said. “It’s going to be completely funded by students, which is
really exciting.”

The SOS budget is typically allocated $200,000 from the Finance Commission each year.

Though SOS is in charge of its own funding, any project that SOS needs to spend more than $6,000 on needs to come before Student Senate for approval, Sorenson said.

The SOS will be taking $30,000 from their capital account and putting it toward the project.

Sorenson said there is already $130,000 set aside by prior SOS directors for the project and this last $30,000 will make purchasing it possible.

They’ve taken their time to save up funding for the project to ensure students get the most out of their money.

“If you’re going to do a solar panel project, and the reason why we put off getting it from 2010 until now, is that the bigger your solar panel project, the more energy you can produce,” she said, “so the more you can offset your carbon footprint.”

Chief of Staff Tyrel Zich, a former intern for SOS, said he was glad to see the project finally come to term.

It’s a substantial portion of the SOS budget, but Zich said he’s fine with that.

“While the life of the solar panels is relatively unknown because it is new technology, it does exceed 16.5 years, which in my mind is all that matters,” Zich said. “If it exceeds the payback period, it is sustainable.”

Sorenson said it is unclear how long the panels will last, but they come with a 25-year warranty. She said she foresees them lasting much longer than that.

The panels are expected to produce $3,660 of energy per year, based on the current cost of electricity. This offsets the carbon footprint of the university, Sorenson said.

Right now, SOS pays Xcel Energy a total of $11,921 to offset the university’s carbon footprint through the Xcel Energy Windsource Program. She said offsetting the buildings affects students because they pay for non-academic buildings such as the Davies Center and the library.

“The idea is that students will be paying for these buildings and if we can offset these buildings we’re saving students money,” Sorenson said.

Senior Jacki Zwiefelhofer said though she won’t be here to see the benefits of the solar panels, she supports the project.

“If they’re saying it’s something we’ll be benefiting from in 16 years, it’s obviously something that will last a long time,” Zwiefelhofer said. “I feel like EC takes all my money anyway, but if they’re putting this toward something that will save students money in the long run, I’m all for it.”

Sorenson will be finalizing the project with Associate Director of Facilities Management Mike Traynor within the next couple of weeks to make sure funding can be moved over to Facilities properly and plans can be made to set up