Shining, Shimmering, Splendid: An Update on LC’s Solar Panel Array

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Calvin Pan '23

The solar panel array as viewed from the lacrosse fields.

Calvin Pan '23, Staff Writer

Have you ever stared into the distance while watching a lacrosse game or staring downhill after finally summiting that one seemingly never-ending hill in town, and questioned what those looming blue structures dominating the horizon were? Those structures are, in fact, Loomis Chaffee’s very own solar panel array, an idea originated from a student-powered initiative led by Jason Liu ’17 during his time on the Island.

Since the start of their operation in 2019, the panels have provided the school with a substantial portion of its energy through renewable means, significantly lessening Loomis’ carbon footprint while serving as a powerful symbol of student-initiated change on campus.

According to Director of Environmental/Sustainability Initiatives and Associate Director of the Alvord Center Mr. Jeffery Dyreson, the panels produce roughly 1 megawatt hour of electricity, meeting about 20% of Loomis’ total electricity demand on average. The power produced by the array is managed by an outside power company, Eversource, which uses the energy to sustain Loomis’s entire grid.

“The array is tied into the total grid, and the power doesn’t go directly to campus. It’s part of the Eversource portfolio of renewables, so Eversource makes it so that the power generated then goes either here to campus, or to wherever else and we get credit for that one megawatt hour of power,” Mr. Dyreson said.

Loomis’ relationship with Eversource is outlined by a contract known as a power purchase agreement, or PPA. This allows the land on which the panels are built to be owned by Loomis, although the panels themselves are owned by Eversource, who have contracted out operations and maintenance work on the array to another outside provider.

“They [Eversource] have a third party company that comes in and does maintenance and runs operations, but there’s no regular communications: they send us a bill, we pay the bill,” Mr. Dyreson said.

The relationship between Eversource and Loomis has sometimes been rocky, owing in part to this lack of communication.
“Underneath the array, if there’s any vegetation that grows, that needs to be controlled per fire marshal code. The most common [way] would be a roundup application, an herbicide, which we’re not thrilled about, so we want to see if there’s alternative measures like mowing or some sort of more environmentally sustainable method. So we’ve been trying to have conversations with the provider about maintenance of the array and also access to it,” Mr. Dyreson said.

Loomis’ PPA with Eversource lasts for 20 years, and the agreement is currently in its third year. If not renewed after it expires, the array may be shut down.

“There’s a whole host of options that might be visited in 20 years. Most likely, that conversation will start in 15 years, before the end of the contract, to see what the school is interested in doing at that point,” Mr. Dyreson said.

The idea behind the array first came from Jason Liu ’17 when he was a junior at Loomis. Jason pursued it in the form of an independent study, asking questions, researching, and meeting with key community figures to get the project passed with support from the numerous student-focused environmental efforts on campus. Similar student-led projects are currently taking place around campus, from a community garden program to a hydroponics system to an aquaculture initiative.

“So you’re going from a range of the solar array, which has a lot of financial implications and responsibilities to the school to smaller ones, but we see the whole range as equally responsible because we are an educational institution, and when students want to do something, we really do listen and try to facilitate and help them get to that point,” Mr. Dyreson said.

Bringing students into Loomis’s environmental advocacy sector is also made easier due to the school’s commitment for bringing our teaching out of the classroom and onto our 300 acre campus.

“Loomis has made a commitment to not only foster ideas within the curriculum for students, but to actually put it into best practice or into action, and use the campus as a laboratory. I think that’s really special,” Mr. Dyreson said.

The solar panels stand as a landmark of student involvement in campus environmental efforts, and though not all student involvement is as large-scale as the panels, they have nonetheless inspired many students in living out Loomis’ dedication to the best self and the common good.

“There’s a myriad of different ways that students can get involved. Everything from joining Project Green to taking the Environmental Science class to the Gilchrest Environmental Fellowship. So, under the guise of environmental sustainability, there’s a lot of different ways that students can really take a journey and take action and we really embrace that and really try to foster that for students,” Mr. Dyreson said.