PE Center Solar Array: Powering Toward Carbon Net Neutrality

Plymouth State’s venerable Physical Education (PE) Center is undergoing an energy efficiency transformation. After years of research and planning, nearly an acre’s worth of advanced solar panels are being installed on the center’s Holderness campus roof, with construction anticipated to be completed by year’s end. Covering all available roof space, the solar photovoltaic (PV) array will offset more than 90 percent of the PE Center’s annual electricity consumption.

“This is an important step toward Plymouth State’s goal of achieving carbon net neutrality for institutional electricity consumption by the year 2030,” says Brian Eisenhauer, director of PSU’s Office of Environmental Sustainability (OES). “It’s truly a win-win scenario that will save money while helping to meet our climate goals.”

“As an environmental planning student, it’s exciting to see the school taking action and honoring the values that lead to a sustainable existence,” says Sheena Duncan ’21. “PSU is setting a great example for students and the surrounding community, and I’m hopeful that this will inspire change.”

The 518.4-kilowatt direct current system will consist of 1,296 panels rated at 400 watts each. “The array is expected to produce more than 606,000 kilowatt hours of electricity in its first year of operation,” notes Physical Plant Project Director Walter Durack, who is overseeing the construction. 

Plymouth State has a longstanding commitment to campus sustainability. In 2009, the University became a charter signatory of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). As part of that commitment, the University developed a Climate Action Plan in 2010 and pledged to reduce campus greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50 percent by 2025 and to make its operations greenhouse gas neutral by 2050.

In 2013, PSU worked with Greener U, a New England based consulting firm that specializes in helping educational institutions mitigate climate change, to develop a Climate Action Implementation Plan. The PE Center Solar Array Project is in accordance with that plan, which provides tangible steps and timelines for achieving sustainability goals. 

Construction of the $822,000 system is expected to save the University $100,500 in electric utility charges in its first year of operation. Transitioning the electric supply for the PE Center from the regional electricity distribution grid, where electricity is predominately produced by the consumption of natural gas, to the new solar array will reduce the University’s annual carbon emissions by 473 tons, according to the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalency Calculator. This is the equivalent of taking 93 passenger vehicles off the road for one year.

Excess electricity produced by the array will be sold to the regional electricity distribution grid though a net metering agreement in place with New Hampshire Electric Cooperative, the University’s electric utility. 

The project provides students with a first-hand view of renewable energy and furthers their understanding of the technology behind it. “During my undergraduate career I served as president of Common Ground, the student environmental and social justice organization, and I received a minor in sustainability,” says Briana Stewart ’19, ’21G. “These experiences helped me evolve into a more environmentally conscious person in my everyday life and local community, and the new PV array is just another great example of sustainability here on campus.”

Reed Silvers ’23, an environmental planning major, believes that PSU has a responsibility to not only educate students to lead sustainably focused lives, but to implement bold campus sustainability initiatives. “I am proud to see that PSU has recognized this duty and begun an ambitious solar panel project,” he says. “It’s a concrete step in its plan to be carbon neutral by 2050.”

This will be the second major PE Center upgrade in recent years. The 2,000 square foot Human Performance Center (HPC), a fully renovated section featuring state of the art classrooms and labs, opened in 2019. The center houses all Health and Human Performance courses in the disciplines of athletic training/allied health sciences, exercise & sport physiology, physical education, and public health. Plans call for the HPC’s lower level to be the future home of a new 16,000 square foot Strength and Conditioning Open Laboratory, which will replace the current “weight room” with a climbing wall; free weights, cardio, and plate-loaded equipment areas; and a turf rehab and speed training area.

The solar array project is a result of the work of many teams, including PSU’s Finance Office, OES, Physical Plant, the University Energy Committee, students, OES, and the University System of New Hampshire, among others.

“Soon we can all take pride in having something tangible and long lasting when we look up and see the center’s solar panels shining in the sun, reducing our need for climate damaging fossil fuels,” says Eisenhauer.