Parkland board approves contract for 8-acre solar farm

Parkland board approves contract for 8-acre solar farm

CHAMPAIGN — Parkland College could have its own 8-acre solar farm by later this year.

The board of the community college Wednesday night approved a contract with SolSystems LLC of Washington, D.C., to build a 2-megawatt solar energy field on the northwest corner of the campus. The solar field in south Champaign operated by the University of Illinois provides about 4 megawatts of electricity when it is operating.

Under terms of the agreement, Parkland would save $25,000 to $30,000 annually on its electricity costs and would pay none of the upfront or operating costs of the system, said Jim Bustard, director of the college's physical plant.

"I keep looking at this and going, 'There's got to be something in here,' but we've spent time with our consultants and our lawyers, going over every detail, and this is really going to be a good deal for the college," he said.

"From the length of that contract, which is 25 years, they are responsible for everything inside the fence. If something goes wrong with a line underground, or the panels or inverters or controls or disconnects or ground mounts, anything, it's all theirs. And if the panels fail, it's up to them to replace them for the entire length of the project," Bustard said.

SolSystems gets renewable energy certificates in the agreement that it can sell on the open market to businesses and industries.

The solar field would provide between 10 and 15 percent of Parkland's energy use, he said.

"We made the decision several years ago that we wanted to be into renewable energy, and solar seemed to be the way," Bustard said. "That was where the technology was going, and that's where we thought we could really put something together that would be meaningful and could be used as part of the educational process. And since it's ground-mounted, it's going to be a lot more accessible for faculty and students to get in there and look at it and see how it works."

Bustard said he hopes to see construction of the solar array begin soon.

"We're hoping to get it installed — if we could get all our parts and pieces and get a few other things ironed out — we'd like to get it up and running by fall. The installation's not going to take very long. We just need to get all the parts and pieces together," he said.

Also Wednesday night, the Parkland board approved establishing a career certificate in unmanned aircraft systems.

Parkland already provides a short course in drone certification, but the new certificate program would include two three-hour courses. It would be offered through Parkland's Institute of Aviation and probably would be available next fall.

"The first class would be primarily classroom, and the second would involve classroom and actual flying of the drones in a reasonably large space somewhere here on the Parkland campus," said Don Talleur, chief flight instructor in the aviation institute. "It's really designed to allow these folks who want to professionally have a credential where they can go to an employer and say, 'I have been trained formally, and I know what the rules are, and I'm certified under the FAA to do this commercially' rather than saying. 'Oh, I did this over the weekend.'"

No other colleges in central Illinois are offering the curriculum, said Mandy Briggs, a flight instructor at the institute.

"That's why it was important for us to get this done now, to show that we're a leader in this particular area," said Briggs.

The board also approved a resolution reaffirming its policy against sexual discrimination, harassment and misconduct, and agreed to update policies it OK'd in 2016.

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787 wrote on January 18, 2018 at 1:01 pm

Meanwhile, the U of I's large Solar Farm continues to produce no power at all. 

It has been dead in the water since October 29, 2017.  Quite disappointing. 

However, I doubt the U of I really cares, as the electricity from the solar farm was likely more expensive than the traditional sources of power.  So they're not going to put any pressure on the vendor to fix it and get it back on-line.