More sun-fueled energy coming Pima’s way

By JUSTINA ZIEGLER

Pima Community College has been a pioneer in using solar panels and teaching photovoltaic installation.

In spring of 2015 PCC began planning solar installation projects. Later that year PCC began Phase 1 of 2 to install solar panels. Installation has been completed at West, Downtown, Community and Desert Vista campuses, along with it’s Maintenance and Security complexes. The installation is being completed by Solon/Solar City.

The college is currently working on Phase 2, and workers will be installing panels at East and Northwest campuses beginning in late November or early December.

These panels supply power to all campus operations during the day. If the solar panels generate more power than needed, it flows onto Tucson Electric Power’s grid to be distributed to other TEP customers. This excess power is measured into a net metering account that PCC can use when the panels are not producing electricity, like at night.

Michael Smith, Fiscal Analyst for PCC, says all installation will be complete early spring of 2018.

“These panels will supply generally around 80% of the college’s power needs,” Smith said. “Projects are estimated to save in excess of ten million dollars in energy cost over the next 25 years, based on a utility rate increase of around 3 percent.”

Smith says in addition to proving less expensive and renewable energy, PCC has received quite a bit of positive feedback in appreciation of the cooler, covered parking areas.

“If the rate structure would allow for it, we would install more,” Smith said. “Contributing toward more renewable energy supports the environment in ways that actually help. There may be a time coming when PCC can also benefit financially by helping to provide clean energy for neighborhoods surrounding solar campuses.”

Lazaro Hong, who holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and is a photovoltaics installation instructor at West Campus, teaches his class about the components to installing solar panels as well as electrical theory.

“We have been teaching PV solar since 2008, almost 10 years now,” Hong said. “We were the first community college in Arizona to teach photovoltaics.”

Hong said Solon/Solar City has an agreement with PCC to pay a fixed rate for the power that the panels generate, while the college pays nothing for installation equipment, operating costs or maintenance.

Hong thinks it is important to use more solar energy in the future.

“It’s important because we will need all types of energy, including solar and wind, to power our homes, businesses, and factories,” Hong said. “Coal and oil will one day run out; the sun will continue to produce energy for billions of years.

Photo by KATELYN ROBERTS

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