Webster University Goes Solar

Mar. 26, 2014

Webster University Goes Solar

ST. LOUIS (MARCH 26,2014) - Seven arrays of solar panels are being installed on six Webster University buildings in the St. Louis area. The work started in mid-March when a crane hoisted two sets of panels on to the tops of Webster and Loretto halls. Work should be completed by mid-April.

The solar panels are expected to produce electricity to power more than 17 homes and will save the University nearly $900,000 in energy costs during the next 25 years, once tax credits and rebates are factored in. It’s believed that this project is the largest solar panel installation at any University in the St. Louis area.

 It is just one of many changes Webster has adapted in the past few years to make the University more sustainable.

“The primary reason that Webster University is investing in sustainable infrastructure is to reduce the amount of waste from our locations and to become better stewards of our environment,” said Greg Gunderson, the vice president and chief financial officer of Webster University. “In the past decade, our students have been loud and clear that they want the University to be more sustainable. We have heard their messages and are diligently working toward meeting those goals.”

The solar panels are being installed by Microgrid Solar, a St. Louis-based company that has placed solar panels on some of the most high-profile buildings in the region, including the St. Louis Botanical Gardens, Anheuser-Busch’s buildings and Rams Park in Bridgeton. The company has installed panels at several other schools and universities in the area, but company representatives said that the Webster University project is currently the largest solar installation at any university in the St. Louis region.

The company started work at Webster University on March 11. During the next month, the company will install seven sets of panels on Webster Hall, Loretto Hall, the Visual Arts Center, the University Center, the Old Orchard Shopping Center, and at 40 Rock Hill, which will receive two sets. Those buildings were selected as it being the most technically and financially feasible sites for the solar collectors. Webster Grove’s Architectural Review Board approved the panels in early March with no objections. No one in the community spoke out against the project during public hearings.

Each array is capable of producing 25 kilowatts of power. During the 25-year-life of the panels, it’s estimated that they will pay for themselves and also save the university an additional $750,000 in power costs. Rebates and tax credits will increase those savings to $887,000, University officials estimate. The reduction in energy consumption by Webster University also will contribute to Webster Groves’ EPA Green Power Community Challenge, where the city has vowed to use a minimum of 3 percent of its energy from “green” energy sources.

Aside from the environmental aspect of the solar panels, there is an education component as well.

“The solar lease packet includes a solar production display that will be used to provide educational content and can be used by students to discuss energy production and the value of solar,” said Steve Strang, a project manager at Webster who oversaw the installation.  “The system displays can also be tied into our web site, which we are exploring on how to make that happen.”

This isn’t the first major sustainability project for Webster University. Two years ago, the University placed several solar-powered trash compactors on its home campus to more easily collect bottles and cans. That was followed shortly by a university-wide recycling policy that has placed recycling bins in just about every office, classroom and hallway at all campus locations. Late last year, the University’s East Academic Building was certified LEED Gold, making it the most sustainable building in Webster Groves and one of only 31 buildings in the entire St. Louis Metro area to reach that level (see http://www.webster.edu/news/2013/news/08292013_eab_leed_certified.html).

The LEED Green Building Rating System is a third-party certification program and the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings. The program was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Certificate levels are no-color, silver, gold and platinum.

Webster University also has a Sustainability Committee made up of students, faculty and staff who host an annual Sustainability Conference each spring and also continually look for ways to reduce the University’s carbon footprint.