Manhattanville College is cleared to start construction on a carport solar array project that the school says will soon provide 20 percent of the campus’ electricity.
The Purchase-based college of 1,800 undergraduates received approval from the Harrison Planning Board in April to start construction on the solar project. The school expects to start building the arrays by the end of the month.
The plan calls for about 3,600 panels to be built over parking lots on Manhattanville’s campus. The panels will produce 1.1 megawatts yearly, good for about a fifth of the college’s energy needs.
The project should be complete by late October, according to J. Gregory Palmer, vice president of operations for Manhattanville College.
Different from the more common rooftop and ground-mount solar panels, a carport design places solar panels on a structure above parking areas.
The carport solar style is somewhat unusual for solar operations in New York, Palmer said, adding they are more commonly seen out west. But the architecture of Manhattanville’s older buildings made rooftop panels impractical, and the school didn’t have enough land for a large array of ground-mounted solar panels, Palmer said.
“We had these big, open parking lots, so this just worked for us better,” he added.
Carports allow Manhattanville to take advantage of unused space above parking lots, which soak up their fair share of sun. The panels can catch that sun and keep cars parked in the shade beneath them cool.
“I think you’ll see more and more of them,” Palmer said. “I know we are one of the first in Westchester, certainly in Harrison.”
The project will be built through a 25-year power purchase agreement between the school and a group of energy companies: Energy In The Bank, RBI Solar, Cenergy Power and General Energy Solutions Inc.
The array will be financed, owned and operated by General Energy Solutions, Palmer said.
The school will purchase power from the array starting at 10.5 cents per kilowatt hour the first year, with the price increasing at a rate of 2.5 percent per year after that.
The school currently pays 17 cents per kilowatt hour, Palmer said, so it expects to save about $3 million in energy costs over the 25-year period.
But the decision for solar comes down to more than cutting costs. In 2009, Manhattanville joined the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (which is now known as the Carbon Commitment) by pledging to become carbon-neutral by 2025.
Toward that end, the school is also retrofitting its buildings with LED lighting and upgrading control systems for boilers and air conditioning units. The school will also add charging stations for electric vehicles once the carport is in place.
Manhattanville expects the solar project to save approximately 800 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year, which it says is the equivalent of removing 160 cars from the road annually.