A Grid Positive Experience at Butte College
Jan 05, 2011
Butte College sits on 928 acres in Butte County, California. The majority of the campus is a wildlife refuge, but the developed portion is no less distinctive. A drive through campus takes you past massive arrays of solar panels – on the ground, over parking structures and atop LEED-certified buildings.
For the past five years, the leadership of Butte College has involved the entire campus in its effort to become the first grid positive campus in the country. The college will produce more energy than it uses by May 2011, reducing its carbon footprint by 50 percent.
In 30 years, it will save an estimated $150 million in energy costs. The idea to invest in sustainability was raised by Butte College’s board of trustees. Intrigued by the notion of saving energy and money, President Diana Van Der Ploeg tasked Mike Miller, director of facilities, planning and management, with researching and implementing the project. Butte College’s first solar panel array was installed in 2005.
Mike met with Bank of America as he prepared for phase two of the sustainability project. The bank issued the financing Butte College needed to advance to phase three and helped the school secure Clean Renewable Energy Bonds from the federal government.
The technical aspects of phases two and three were managed by Chico Electric. Its president, Norm Nielsen, is an alumnus of Butte College. Under his leadership, Chico Electric took on a large role in the school’s Clean Energy Workforce Training Program. Its employees provide input on the curriculum, teach required courses and hire top graduates as apprentices. Two such graduates are Zac Goodman and E. J. Penick. Zac earned his bachelor’s degree at California State University, Chico, and spent months looking for a job before enrolling at Butte College. He knew the theory behind sustainability and was eager to get his hands dirty. His classmate, E. J., was a single father of two children working for minimum wage. In the Clean Energy Workforce Training Program, he found his passion and the means to support his family.
Today, Zac and E. J. are part of the team installing solar panels at Butte College’s Chico Center. They’re proud to be affiliated with the country’s first grid positive campus and the larger green movement, improving the energy-efficiency and economy of cities like Chico around the world.