Houghton College put unused land to work by installing one of the largest solar arrays ever implemented on a New York college campus, saving the school $4.3 million in energy costs.

Houghton, NY

Houghton College

Overview

Houghton College put unused land to work by installing one of the largest solar arrays on a college campus in New York.

Borrego Solar developed and built the ground-mount array. WGL Energy financed the project with a PPA that covered all upfront costs. GES, which provided the solar panels for the project, was the initial owner of the system and sold it to WGL Energy. The project was made possible in part by New York’s solar policies, which have promoted development through incentives, supportive permitting and other programs to get more solar deployed. Houghton received incentive funds from the NY-Sun program.

Financials

Houghton is expected to save $4.3 million in energy costs over the 25-year PPA term. Savings began on day one.

The array will provide enough electricity to meet more than half of the school’s power needs, significantly reduce its energy costs and have a long-lasting positive environmental impact.The system will generate an estimated 3.15 million kilowatt hours of electricity in its first year of operation—the equivalent amount of energy needed to power approximately 370 homes annually. The array enables the college to realize a 23% reduction in greenhouse gas reduction in year one of operation alone.

Challenge

Houghton’s solar project presented one key complexity related to the array’s site and one unexpected challenge related to interconnection. The site is located in a 100-year floodplain, as well as being in a floodway. This presented additional complexity to constructing the racking and electrical equipment. An unexpected challenge arose from the utility side because the array was located in a new service territory. The utility ended up having very conservative utility relaying and protection requirements. The requirements had the potential to add cost and complexity to the design, as well as the risk of “nuisance tripping” (inadvertently disconnecting the site) once in operation.

Solution

To handle the technical considerations when building in a floodplain, Borrego Solar worked with consultants PV Engineers to complete a hydraulic study of the Genesee River to determine the potential forces and height of the floodwater. Borrego Solar, in conjunction with TerraSmart, designed the racking to withstand the force of flood water and at a height where the panels and electrical equipment wouldn’t be inundated with water. To handle the stricter utility requirements, Borrego Solar adapted one of its standard relaying packages to fit the utilities requirements. This ultimately provided a more reliable and lower cost solution than was originally proposed.

Outcome

Houghton College’s solar project highlights the reality that not all sites provide the ideal conditions for solar, but that with the right solar firm—one with highly experienced engineering and technology partners—solar is possible and cost-effective. Borrego Solar’s internal engineering expertise enabled the team to efficiently work with TerraSmart to implement a design that was both compliant with all requirements and cost effective for Houghton College. Borrego Solar’s knowledge of innovative best practices and rapport with utility representatives facilitated quick and direct communication on proposed design changes, resulting in effectively securing the necessary approvals.

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