Solar panels to provide eight percent of Augustana’s electric energy


Augustana college to install solar panels on the roofs of Westerlin Hall, PepsiCo Recreation Center, Carver P.E. Center and Centennial Hall during summer 2020. Graphic by Kevin Donovan.

Jordan Cone

During the summer of 2020, Augustana College intends to begin the installation of solar panels on four campus buildings which will provide eight percent of the college’s electric energy, according to Kai Swanson, special assistant to the president.
After a student-led Climate Strike in Sept. 2019, President Bahls appointed a Climate Change Task Force which influenced the college in deciding to prioritize solar power on campus – a project that, unbeknownst to them, was already being negotiated. 
Since then, Augustana announced on April 21 that it has agreed to a 25-year lease with a renewable energy company, Keystone Power Holdings. Under this lease, the college buys electricity generated by the solar panels at a fixed cost, and the company owns and maintains the equipment.
Kirk Anderson is the chief financial officer and vice president of administration and advises the Climate Change Task Force financially.
“The one thing that we didn’t want to get into a situation of, is buying solar panels from a company and then they install them and then we’re required to maintain and fix anything that might go wrong,” Anderson said. “We understand there’s a lot of complexity with that, and we don’t have the staff at the college to be able to maintain and fix a lot of those things.”
So, Swanson said this partnership is a win-win.
Senior Hunter Ridley is a member of the task force and said she was excited to hear about the college’s plan to install solar panels.
“Projecting to run eight percent of the college’s energy is really admirable,” Ridley said. “I mean, it may sound like a small number, but I’m really excited that they were showing a huge visible commitment to something like this.”
The solar panels will be installed on the roofs of Westerlin Hall, Carver P.E. Center, PepsiCo Recreation Center and Centennial Hall. 
According to Anderson, there are plans to install solar panels on top of the Knowlton Center which is currently under construction. 
“We’ve actually implemented drawing plans within that whole plan structure to make sure that the roof on the facility can support the solar panel array if we want to do that in the future, too,” Anderson said.
Swanson said this is not the only effort the college has made towards sustainable energy. 
The college primarily purchases energy from MidAmerican Energy, a company that has begun to shift away from coal-fueled power to wind-power.
Campus-wide, Augustana has switched to LED lighting.
“That was something that the school did invest money in to the tune of about half a million dollars to swap all of those out,” Anderson said. “We’ve been able to save upwards to about, what looks like it’s gonna be close to about, $120,000 a year on our electricity bill.” 
The task force, according to Ridley, has made around 20 other suggestions to the college. 
“We’re literally fighting against an uphill battle,” Ridley said of climate change. “It is a crisis and it is something you need to take seriously.”
These suggestions include bettering Augustana’s recycling program, divestment in fossil fuels and taking investment savings from green infrastructure projects like solar panels and putting that money into other projects.
“I want these students 50 years from now to look back and say, ‘Wow, what we did really make a difference, and it’s made a huge impact,’” Swanson said. “I think that’s highly likely, and I think they should be proud of that.”