US$3.4 million solar project approved for university, Wisconsin

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The Wisconsin State Building Commission has approved the construction of what will be Wisconsin’s largest state-owned solar array project, which will be built at UW-Platteville. The US$3.4 million solar array project is expected to supply almost a fifth of the campus’s electricity needs and save about US$217,000 a year in energy costs. The 2.4 MW project was brought to light by a 2018 petition, signed by more than 300 students, calling on the university to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2030. More than 82% of students agreed with the goal in a May 2019 student referendum. Currently, only five American colleges and universities generate more of their energy from on-site solar arrays.

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The panels will be built on a five-acre hillside in the campus’ Memorial Park. Construction is scheduled to start this spring, and the system should be operational this fall. The system will connect directly to 32 campus buildings where the electricity is used rather than feeding power onto the grid, an arrangement that maximizes the benefit to the university and reduces strain on utility networks. It is expected to meet about 17% of campus demand and is set up to accommodate future battery storage. According to the application approved by the building commission, the energy savings will allow the university to pay off the project in 16 years.

The university currently has a 5 kW solar system atop its Engineering building, along with a smaller solar array and a 20 kW wind turbine. Chancellor Dennis J. Shields said in a statement, “We are excited to take this momentous step in our commitment to sustainability.  “These efforts will save taxpayer money and have a lasting impact on future generations of Pioneers. I am proud that UW-Platteville can serve as a model of innovation and pave the way for other state agencies to follow suit.”