Furman University plans to build a large solar farm on six acres near its main campus entrance along Poinsett Highway, moving the campus toward an eventual goal to become a carbon-neutral university.
The 743-kW output of the photovoltaic (PV) project will become the largest solar project on a South Carolina college campus and will bring Furman’s total solar power generation close to 1000-kW, the maximum allowed on-site under state law.
The solar panels will face due south and will be easily visible to passing traffic on land the university has already cleared near the campus, said Jeff Redderson, Furman’s associate vice president for facility and campus services.
The solar farm will reduce electricity expenditures campus-wide by up to 5 percent and greenhouse gas emission by about 3 percent, Redderson said.
“Furman is committed to sustainability and this is helping us move in that direction,” Redderson said.
The Furman Board of Trustees has approved the $1.7 million project and the university expects an 8-year return on investment, he said.
On Friday, Duke Energy confirmed to Furman that it would provide a $997,000 rebate to defray installation costs of the project, he said. That rebate would be paid once the installation goes online, Ryan Mosier, a Duke Energy spokesman, said.
Furman’s project will be the first in the area to tie directly into an electric transmission line and Duke also helped with technical expertise to make sure the project didn’t strain its electric grid, Redderson said.
Duke has helped Furman with the technical side, including engineering studies that will support the project’s interconnection to the electric grid, Mosier said. The project is set up for net-metering, which means any excess power it generated could be sold back to Duke Energy, he said.
“Our solar rebate program is a key component of our plans to grow Duke Energy’s renewable footprint in South Carolina,” Mosier said. “It’s designed to help customers with the cost of installing solar on their property.”
Mosier said the rebate to Furman is one of its largest to date.
“Furman has always been a great partner with us,” Mosier said. “We are really excited to see this project come online and expand the use of solar energy in the Upstate.”
Furman has contracted with Power Secure Solar, a North Carolina-based energy technologies and services company, to oversee the solar installation and the university will own the project, he said.
Furman was able to pursue the solar project because South Carolina increased on-site solar production limits when it passed the Distributed Energy Resource Program Act, Act 236, in 2014. Prior to that bill’s passage, the university had been limited to producing a maximum of 100-kW of solar power on site.
The project will move Furman closer to its goal to become carbon-neutral by 2026, the university’s 200th anniversary. Furman began to move toward that goal under past president David Shi when it became one of more than 650 colleges and universities to sign the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment and pledge to take action on climate change and prepare students through research and education to tackle sustainability issues.
The solar farm will become the fourth site of solar power generation on campus, Redderson said. The university gets a maximum of 92-kW from solar panels located on the roof of its Lay Physical Activities Center, 30-kW from multiple arrays at the Shi Center for Sustainability and 12-kW from two sets of panels next to the Townes Science Center.
Furman has already positioned itself to expand its solar output in the future, Redderson said. When the university replaced the roof on Timmons Arena, it redesigned the roof to make it easy to install solar panels in the future, he said. It also has land and up-sized the transformer for the new solar farm on Poinsett Highway to be able to add capacity, he said.
When the new project is finished in early 2017, Furman will once again bump against the upper limits of how much on-site solar generation is allowed under the 2014 law, he said.
It would require further legislative action in the future to raise the cap on allowable on-site solar generation for Furman to add more solar projects on campus, he said.
Furman uses about 5,500-kW of electricity at its peak during the summer months and about 4,000-kW during the winter, Redderson said. To meet its carbon-neutral goals, Furman will need to continue to expand its alternative-energy generation, including solar, likely at off-site locations.
The university is currently studying its options such, as involvement in off-site solar PV projects, that could off-set the university’s electric needs, he said.
The (Columbia) State reporter Sammy Fretwell contributed to this story.