Luther College $1.2 million Solar Energy Field Nears Completion

Recipient of a 2012 Second Nature Climate Leadership Award. One of eight colleges across the country to receive an "A" on the 2011 College Sustainability Report Card.

July 3, 2012 

Luther College's new $1.2 million solar energy field is nearing completion says Steven Peters, president of Dragonfly Solar, the company constructing the array of solar panels which will be the largest single solar energy production facility in the state of Iowa when it goes online in early July.

"We finished all the foundation work last week and have started on the solar panels," Peters reported to college officials this week. He said the trenching for the transmission lines is completed, the lines are run, and construction of the racks that support the solar panels is ahead of schedule.

Located on a two-acre site along Pole Line Road on the north side of the Luther College campus, the 1,250 separate solar panels mounted in six rows are the main feature of the 280-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system. The solar field will provide electricity used by Baker Village, an all-electric student housing facility that uses geothermal energy for heating and cooling.

Luther will lease the solar panel array for seven years from Decorah Solar Field, LLC, a corporation owned by Decorah resident Larry Grimstad. The college plans to purchase the solar array after seven years. The solar panels have a 25-year warranty.

The solar field will be connected to Alliant Energy's distribution line by a half-mile underground transmission line.

The solar panel field is Luther's latest major project in sustainable methods of operation and energy conservation initiatives that will take the college to its zero carbon footprint goal. Luther plans to reduce its campus carbon footprint by 50 percent by the end of 2015, 70 percent by 2020, and achieve carbon neutral operation by 2030.

An investment in campus buildings energy efficiency in 2004 reduced the college's carbon footprint 15 percent, and a 1.6-megawatt wind turbine erected in 2011 will bring an additional 15 percent reduction.

Dragonfly Solar, based in the Twin Cities, designed the solar panel facility. Its solar panels were manufactured by SolarWorld, USA.

The solar panel array will produce a maximum of 280 kilowatts (kW) of electricity while the sun is shining. Factoring in variables such as cloud cover, shadows, and other weather issues, the facility is expected to produce an estimated 355,000 kW hours of electricity annually.

Another 20 kW solar photovoltaic demonstration array will be installed south of the Shirley Baker Commons later this year.  Together the two arrays will produce 375,000 kW hours per year, which is the average amount of electricity Baker Village has consumed each of the last three years.

Baker Village consists of four townhouse-style buildings that accommodate 112 senior students. The electricity produced by the solar panel array will power all electrical appliances at Baker Village, as well as the geothermal heating and cooling system. When the panels produce more electricity than is being consumed the excess will flow into Alliant Energy’s grid to power nearby homes in Decorah.

The solar panel array's electrical power generation will make Baker Village a carbon-neutral facility, said Jim Martin-Schramm, Luther professor of religion and coordinator of the project.

Carbon neutrality has been a strategic goal of the college since June 2007 when President Richard Torgerson made Luther one of the 70 charter signatories of the American College and University President's Climate Commitment.

Carbon neutrality, or having a net zero carbon footprint, refers to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Produced primarily by the burning of fossil fuels, carbon dioxide emissions are the primary greenhouse gas contributing to global climate change and its increasingly unpredictable weather patterns.

For more information regarding the Baker Village Solar Energy Project, visit https://www.luther.edu/sustainability/energy/solarpower/bakersolar/.

For more information about Luther's sustainability initiatives, visit https://www.luther.edu/sustainability/.