Webster University considers solar power


Brad Wolaver, sustainability coordinator for Webster University, said the college has been working with Microgrid Solar, a solar panel installation company in St. Louis, to explore the possibility of installing solar units on campus.

“It makes sense from, not just a carbon footprint perspective and weaning ourselves off of non renewables, but it makes financial sense as well,” Wolaver said. Ameren Corporation’s solar rebates made the opportunity “attractive” Wolaver said. The company is offering $2 per watt rebates through the end of December. Then, the dollar amount per watt for the rebate will lessen to $1.50.

Ameren’s rebates are part of an agreement between Ameren and The Missouri Public Service Commission. The agreement was a reaction to Missouri’s green power law, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

“The sooner we can take advantage of that rebate program the better,” Wolaver said.

The university researched solar power and requested bids from different solar installers. The maximum amount the university could install with the rebate is 25 kilowatt per installation. Each installation would have to be tied to a different Ameren meter.

“Across the campus … anytime we can make a decision to wean ourselves from nonrenewable resources for energy production, the better off we will be,” Wolaver said.

The student organization Webster Students for Environmental Sustainability (WSES) proposed that the university use 100 percent renewable energy on campus by 2030 at the Delegates’ Agenda in fall of 2011. Delegates’ Agenda is an opportunity for students to discuss issues on campus and potential solutions with university administration. At the time, Webster did not make promises to use 100 percent renewable energy but responded to the proposal by hiring Wolaver.

Former WSES Officer Lindsey Heffner said investing in solar power on campus would be good for Webster economically and environmentally.

“I’m very proud, and I think this is a very brave step for Webster,” Heffner said.

Current WSES President Jon Strauser said Heffner and other WSES leaders inspired him to get more involved in environmental issues when he started at Webster. He has also talked with Wolaver about getting solar power on campus.

“I’m surprised we haven’t done it,” Strauser said. “If we did something like this we would set an example for other schools.”

Wolaver said he thought it was beneficial to explore further solar power on campus. He said the university is considering adding solar units on several buildings on campus. He would not comment on what buildings the university has considered since the plans are not final. But he said the university would know more by the end of December.

When deciding what buildings to place the solar array systems on, Wolaver said the university has mainly been considering the height of the buildings.

“You want it (solar panel) at a reasonable height. You don’t want it too low that shadows from trees fall across the roof and reduce your efficiency of the panel,” Wolaver said. “You also don’t want a building that’s necessarily too tall because then you have higher winds, you have to rent a crane, all of those things.”

Besides height, the university is also considering the age of the roofs on the buildings and plans for the buildings in the university’s master plan.

Wolaver said the university would most likely lease the solar panels because leasing makes financial sense. If Webster leases the panels, the installation company would then be responsible for maintenance.

If the university decides to invest in solar now, it would need to install the systems by the end of June 2014.

“We have a lot of decisions to make, between now and when the installations would happen,” Wolaver said.


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