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Solar Projects Heating Up at Butte College and University of the Pacific in Northern California

Butte College's Phase III solar project included the addition of 15,000 photovoltaic panels, totaling 2.7 megawatts, to its current 10,000 solar panels.
Team Players

Customer: Butte College, a nationally accredited community college, is located on a 928-acre wildlife refuge. The school received the 2009 Campus Sustainability Leadership Award from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and has also been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Architect: Nichols Melburg Rossetto Architects

Partner: Chico Electric DPR Energy JV

Project Highlight: Butte College is on track to be the largest solar-producing college in the world, and is the country’s first grid-positive college.

At first glance, the similarities between a new classroom and technology building at the University of the Pacific (UOP) and a series of sunshade structures at Butte College aren’t readily apparent. The new John T. Chambers Technology Center adds 25,000 sq. ft. of classroom, laboratory and meeting space to UOP’s Stockton, CA, campus, while the shade structures, sprinkled throughout Butte’s Oroville, CA, campus, provide temporary shelter to the school’s 21,000 students.

But a closer look highlights the fact that both institutions turned to DPR to implement solar strategies that will reduce their respective energy needs, while drawing them closer to their sustainability goals.

According to DPR Project Engineer Marshall Andrews, UOP didn’t initially set out to include renewable energy in the Chambers Technology Center project. About one-third of the way through the LEED Silver-designed project, the school upped the ante when it turned to DPR and architect Perkins+Will and asked what it would take to achieve Gold certification, he said.

That’s when the team went back to the scorecard and looked at ways it could enhance the project’s sustainable elements. In addition to changes that resulted in additional water-efficiency points, the team decided to install the campus’ first solar array at the Chambers Technology Center. Working with Solar Power Inc., a pedestal solar system was installed on the building’s high-Albedo roof that now produces 6.45 percent of the total building energy, or 25,464 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per year. Additionally, an alternative energy laboratory area was created on the roof for students and professors to conduct research using a variety of solar panels and wind turbines.

Despite the project changes, the school was able to start class in the building a semester earlier than originally scheduled. Andrews attributed the improvements to comprehensive planning. “We had a full-plan meeting with everyone, including professors, and asked, ‘What do you need to start class?’ Once that picture was painted, we looked at places we could be aggressive and stack things up,” he said.

A little more than 100 miles north of Stockton, Butte College is wrapping up its Phase 3 solar project, which adds 15,000 photovoltaic panels, totaling 2.7 megawatts, to its current 10,000 solar panels. Completed in July, Phase 3 allows Butte College to generate 6.381 million kWh per year, making it the country’s first grid-positive college.

Team Players

Customer: UOP is a private university offering undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs in nine colleges. With more than 6,000 students enrolled at its three Northern California campuses, UOP ranks as a “Great School at a Great Price” by U.S. News & World Report.

Architect: Perkins+Will

Project Highlight: Solar arrays at the University of the Pacific not only generate electricity for the building but also serve as a learning laboratory for students and professors.

DPR Preconstruction Manager Nils Blomquist explained that DPR has completed six projects with Butte College over the past 10 years, including the school’s first LEED-certified building. For Phase 3, DPR partnered with an electrical contractor to form Chico Electric DPR Energy Joint Venture. Together, with Nichols Melburg Rossetto Architects, the team is installing 12 solar arrays at the school’s main campus and one at its satellite location in Chico, CA.

The majority of the panels are mounted to canopies, carports and shade structures; additional panels are ground mounted. DPR is also self-performing the construction of the shade structures. The project requires extensive project coordination in dense student areas, Blomquist said. He added that DPR and Chico Electric bought $5.5 million worth of solar panels up front to avoid expected price escalation. The school estimates its solar projects will save it more than $150 million net over 30 years.