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Maryland HBCU Developing Solar Energy Project

There’s no question that higher education institutions during this recession have implemented cost-cutting measures to reduce their operating expenses. Among those schools have been institutions, such as Coppin State University, that are seeking innovative green technologies to make permanent campus changes that save on energy costs. 

Recently, the Baltimore-based historically Black school was awarded a $500,000 stimulus-funded grant to finance the installation of solar photovoltaic systems to help power eight of its campus buildings. The project is underway and the university expects to have it completed by April 2011.

Through its participation in Project Sunburst, a Maryland state program to increase the reliance of public buildings on renewable energy sources, CSU qualified for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant. CSU is the only historically Black institution among 21 Project Sunburst Partners. Project Sunburst was launched by the Maryland Energy Administration.

Robert Underwood, CSU associate director of facilities management, estimates that the news system will save the university anywhere between $10,000 and $15,000 a year.

“The combined systems are expected to have a power output between 500 and 750 kilowatts. Altogether, they’ll provide about 3 to 5 percent of our total annual energy consumption,” Underwood said.

Monica Randall, associate vice president for public policy and government relations at CSU, believes there is a connection between social justice and environmental justice and says this grant enables the university to take its first steps towards demonstrating environmental responsibility.

“We established a sustainability task force two years ago to look into ways of reducing our carbon footprint. With the solar arrays, we hope to accomplish this by to reducing our annual consumption by the equivalent of 46,000 gallons of gasoline per year. It’s a small step, but an important step for us,” she said.

In addition to reducing the carbon footprint and saving money, Randall says the energy-saving systems will have an important educational component. CSU plans to build kiosk stations that will provide information about the power the system is generating and how it works.

“Being able to provide students the opportunity to visually see a solar array will be an important part of our learning environment. It will give them an understanding that the university is taking a position of responsibility. I really believe that environmental stewardship is part of our responsibility as an education institution” she said. “Students who are concerned about the climate change would appreciate going to a university that tries to address that issue.”

Sites where CSU plans to install the solar arrays include two residence halls, a library, the Miles W. Connor Administrative Building and the physical education complex. The buildings were selected to host the arrays based on their flat roof structure and amount of square footage available for the technology.

The average DOE award to the Project Sunburst Partners was $483,000. Other recent award recipients included the Maryland Port Authority Marine Terminal, Carroll Community College, the City of Salisbury Fire Station and several public school systems throughout the state.

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