Unity College Solar Electricity

ReVision staffers stand outside a completed solar array at Thomason Learning Lab at Unity College. Four of our six staffers pictured here are Unity alums!

Unity College, long a leader in sustainability and environmental responsibility among college campuses, has taken a big next step: installing a large-scale solar electric array across two campus buildings. With the project, Unity College will demonstrate the viability of solar for college campuses and other non-profits.

The two installations, completed in September, were financed through a Power Purchase Agreement (or PPA) – an innovative financing approach that allows ReVision Energy to own and operate the system on Unity’s campus for six years, selling the power produced by the solar array to the college in the meantime. The 37 kW (kilowatt) 144-panel solar photovoltaic array will be mounted on Quimby Library and the Thomashow Learning Laboratory roofs and is expected to produce about 45,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually – more than 80% of the library’s previous average annual demand.

How it Works

The grid-tied system will send any electricity not immediately used by the library onto the public utility grid, generating a credit for the college to be applied at other times of the year when the solar system is less productive. This net-metering relationship with the grid means no battery storage is needed on site, and essentially treats Unity’s solar project as a tiny power plant. Any electricity demanded by the library that is not met by the system will be drawn from the grid as normal – electricity that Unity College has offset with the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) since 2002.

“This installation is an important visible addition to our diverse energy portfolio which includes an existing 5.4-kW solar array at the Unity House,” noted Jesse Pyles, Sustainability Coordinator at Unity College. “We’re thrilled to be working with ReVision Energy on this project. They have a stellar reputation in the field as the leading solar installers in Maine and New Hampshire, and their team of professional technicians and project managers includes a number of Unity College alums. ReVision Energy is a mission-driven company that makes the extra effort to engage and educate the public about the viability of renewable energy in New England and beyond.”

Pyles’ comments are echoed by ReVision’s own staff. ReVision Energy’s Liberty Shop Manager, John Luft, added that “To install this array here in Waldo County, right up the road from where we live and work, is especially meaningful. In many ways, as Unity graduates, we’re coming full circle with this project, all while providing a real-world solution that has a place in our local and national economies.”

Long Term Results: Reduced C02 Emissions, Electricity Savings

After six years, Unity College will have the option to purchase the system from ReVision for a fraction of the original cost. Once the College assumes ownership, they will pay nothing for the solar electricity produced by the system. Based on the predicted cost of purchase in year 7, the electricity savings generated by the system should pay off its upfront cost in 7-8 years, all from a system predicted to last 30-40 years.

“This installation is an important additional step to reaching our climate emission reduction goals and adds another strong component to our sustainability education for all of Unity’s students,” Pyles said. “Additionally, the Quimby Library serves several surrounding towns. Coupled with a highly visible wood pellet heating system, this solar installation makes the library a public demonstration of achievable, alternative approaches to energy in Maine.”

Unity College is a small private college in rural Maine that provides dedicated, engaged students with a liberal arts education that emphasizes the environment and natural resources. Unity College graduates are prepared to be environmental stewards, effective leaders, and responsible citizens through active learning experiences within a supportive community.