Solar Array an Important Step Toward Sustainability

The Editorial Board

Environmentally conscious Obies can finally rejoice!

This week, the Office of Communications announced plans to construct a 2.27 MW solar array on 10 acres of agricultural land adjacent to the Athletic Fields. As part of the College’s ongoing efforts to lower energy use and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025, the array — built by national PV services provider SPG Solar, and operated and maintained by a Colorado- and Utah-based company called Spear Point Energy — will generate 12 percent of the College’s annual consumption and will be up and running by the start of fall semester.

This is exciting news. Though the initiative might seem like a relatively small step compared to the work cut out for mankind to achieve environmental sustainability, it’s still a giant leap for Oberlin.

Let’s put the project into a global perspective. The largest solar array in the world is the still-expanding Charanka Solar Park in the state of Gujarat, India, which this year reached its generation capacity of 214 MW. The fact that Oberlin’s PV panels will clock in at one-hundredth its size is actually quite impressive, given the relative speck on the map our campus makes compared to the ambitions of India’s array. For a national comparison, the U.S.’s largest PV field is the Copper Mountain Solar Facility in southern Nevada, with a current production of 58 MW.

On a local level, ours will be the largest solar array on any Ohio college or university campus. And let’s not forget the only other PV systems in town, the Adam Joseph Lewis Center’s rooftop and parking-lot duo, which generate enough electricity to meet the AJLC’s energy needs, usually with a little leftover energy to send back to the Oberlin city grid. They operate at a joint total capacity around 160 kW, a mere seven percent of the production potential of its new northern neighbor.

Our tree-hugging, sunshine-loving selves fully support of the College’s move to green up our act. And while the decisionmaking happened with an eye to doing the best Oberlin can with the resources it has right now, our student body should not stop keeping tabs on the progress toward the goal of climate neutrality. Let’s keep telling the trustees that the most important thing we can do for Oberlin’s future and its present media image, infrastructurally, is to invest in smart, efficient buildings — and actually follow through.

So let’s get the [expletive deleted] solar panels up on [expletive deleted] Kahn. Let’s explore the options for another solar project, maybe in collaboration with the city, once the PV manufacturer that moved into the office park on East Lorain Street last year, GreenField Solar, gets its technology up and running at reasonable cost. For the next dorm we retrofit to be able to power its lights and its residents’ laptops without the use of natural gas, let’s call in the Cleveland-area Ohio Solar Cooperative and keep our investment in northeast Ohio.

And let’s own up to what doing so actually means. The vice president of something called “structured finance” at the company that will build our PV array was quoted in the Source as saying “Oberlin College has always been a leader in social change, and once again they are ahead of the pack.”

Obies know our goals can’t be reduced to boardroom blather. Social change — addressing issues of civil rights, particularly questions of race and gender — is one thing. We’ll worry about that. Striving toward a relationship with our planet’s resources that doesn’t doom us to ecological catastrophe is another.

So we’re glad that for the time being, the College is putting some of our money where our mouth is.