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St. Pete College Warms to Solar Power

The Tampa Tribune

SEMINOLE — A couple of green campuses in Pinellas County are getting a little greener.

St. Petersburg College in December fired up solar power systems at its Seminole and Clearwater campuses, providing 100 kilowatts of power and saving the college about $20,000 a year on its electric bill.

The college was chosen last summer for a $516,000 grant from Duke Energy Florida’s SunSense Schools program, which selects a host college or university annually based on criteria such as attendance, energy consumption and plans to use the solar array as an educational and research tool.

That last component is something that’s already happening at SPC, where the engineering club at the Clearwater campus installed a smaller photovoltaic array on its own in 2010.

“It gives our students, particularly those in science and engineering, an opportunity to study the data and do some research on the viability of solar power in Florida,” said John Williams, an instructor in physics and astronomy at the school. “Our young people are interested in renewable energy, and they’re interested in doing right for the environment.”

The Clearwater array sits atop a covered walkway and is rated at 43 kilowatts. The Seminole array is much more prominent — by design, according to provost James Olliver.

“I think Duke Energy understands that we’ve got to do more of this, and we’ve got to be visible about it,” Olliver said. “It’s to demonstrate that solar energy is viable.”

In its application, St. Petersburg College touted the fact the Seminole array would be at the main entrance to the campus, visible to some 20,000 motorists who pass on 113th Street in an area shared by a recreation complex, a library and City Hall. A sign calls attention to the 150-foot-wide panel.

SPC’s project “is playing a key role in our efforts to educate our customers on renewable energy production,” said Joseph Pietrzak, a senior program manager at Duke, in a statement. Students can track their respective grid’s performance at monitors around both campuses. The public can observe here. Monitors showed Saturday afternoon that the Seminole array had produced 10,227 kilowatt hours in its lifetime, about 256 that day. That’s enough to avoid six tons of carbon dioxide emissions; offset the use of 878 gallons of gasoline; and is enough to fully charge 415 electric cars or 1.8 million smartphones.

Several SPC buildings have earned the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification. The school has an extensive recycling program and “green cleaning” policy. The solar array “is a natural for us,” Olliver said.

SPC joins the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida in earning Duke SunSense Schools grants. USF St. Petersburg is applying and hopes to install the city’s largest solar array. At USF’s main campus, there are solar arrays atop the Marshall Student Center plaza roof and over a carport near the engineering building paid for by student green-energy fees. Such systems may barely dent a university’s overall power bill but can be important symbols, said SPC’s Williams.

“To present to our community and to prospective students a progressive, eco-friendly college is important, and it can be a great recruitment tool,” he said.

Source: The Tampa Tribune

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