Solar + Storage

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Another large solar array is being installed on the Luther campus. The motivation remains the same—for Luther to be good stewards of the resources that surround us.

About 80% of Luther’s current greenhouse gas emissions are associated with campus energy consumption. These emissions derive from the direct combustion of natural gas in the Korsrud Heating plant and the indirect combustion of fossil fuels (coal and natural gas) to power the college with electricity purchased from Alliant Energy. Luther is addressing both issues. This blog post focuses on reducing electricity-related emissions.  A subsequent blog post will focus on how we could heat the campus without relying on natural gas.

Setting Goals

In October 2018, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that global carbon emissions must be halved by 2030 to limit warming to 1.5°C and avoid catastrophic climate impacts. Luther College is demonstrating that this goal can be achieved. We managed to cut our emissions in half by 2020 and we are striving to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Back in 2003-2004, electricity-related emissions comprised over 60% of Luther’s carbon footprint. Today, these emissions only account for about 36% of our emissions. There are three reasons for this reduction. The first and most important reason is that Luther has made major investments in energy efficiency over the last two decades that have reduced Luther’s electricity consumption from around 18 million kilowatt hours (kWh) in 2003-2004 to around 12 million kWh today. In the meantime, electricity in our part of the U.S. electrical grid has gotten cleaner due to the rapid expansion of wind energy in the area. The third reason has to do with Luther’s investments in renewable energy projects on campus, beginning in October 2011 with the installation of Luther’s wind turbine on the western edge of campus.

Making It Happen

In May, Perry Novak Electric began installing a new solar photovoltaic (PV) facility on the north edge of campus. This facility is owned by a local firm, Nova Properties, LLC and it will include a battery storage system. Luther College is leasing the land to the investors and will purchase the power from this facility over the next ten years at rates below those we pay to Alliant Energy. The project is fully funded by the investor; the college is simply purchasing the power.

The new 950 kW solar array is projected to generate 1.2 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year, which is about 10% of Luther’s current annual consumption. The 370 kW lithium ion battery storage system will help Luther further reduce peak demand and transmission charges, which now account for over half of our $1 million in electricity purchases each year from Alliant Energy. Overall, the project is estimated to save the college more than $1 million over the next 25 years.

This is the third large solar project Luther has developed in partnership with local investors who can utilize state and federal tax incentives the college cannot access as a non-profit. Our first project back in 2012 was leased from Decorah Solar, LLC and is used to power Baker Village, which is now the first part of Luther’s campus that is carbon neutral. The second project, like the current one, feeds electricity to our main campus and was developed under a third-party power purchase agreement with Oneota Solar, LLC. All of these projects recycle a significant portion of Luther’s energy dollars in the local economy, save on operating costs, and reduce carbon emissions.

Reaping the Benefits

These projects are in the financial best interests of the college because we can purchase electricity from local investors for less than we can buy it from Alliant Energy over the long term. Our electricity costs have increased at an average annual rate of 4.72% per year for the last fifteen years. After financial aid and health care, electricity costs have been the third fastest rising fixed expense of the college over this period of time.

These projects also further reduce Luther’s carbon footprint. We achieved our first goal to cut our emissions in half by 2015; our next goal is to reduce our emissions 70% by 2020. The new array is projected to reduce Luther’s greenhouse gas emissions by 4%. This percentage will increase as Luther implements a series of new energy efficiency measures that are projected to reduce our electricity consumption by another 20%.

We look forward to a ribbon-cutting ceremony later this fall.  Use this link to view a 50-minute webinar presentation about the project that includes related images and graphics.

Jim Martin-Schramm

Jim Martin-Schramm

Jim Martin-Schramm joined the Religion faculty at Luther College in 1993. He is an ordained member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and has a doctorate in Christian Ethics from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Most of his scholarship has focused on issues related to ethics and public policy, and a lot of his recent work has been in energy and climate policy. He spent most of his youth growing up in Germany and South Africa because his father worked for John Deere. Those years gave him a global perspective that has influenced his career in various ways. He has been involved in various campus sustainability initiatives at Luther and is active in organizations in Iowa working on climate change and energy issues. He currently serves as the Director of Luther's Center for Sustainable Communities.

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Solar power on Luther's campus.

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