Press Releases

Butte College Set to Become First Grid Positive College in the U.S.

Butte College, located in Northern California and resting on a 928-acre wildlife refuge, has been recognized over the last few years as a national community college leader in sustainability. By May 2011, the college will move to the head of its class—as the only college in the nation that is grid positive—producing more clean energy from sustainable on-site solar power than it uses.

The college recently received approval from its Board of Trustees to complete its Phase III solar project, which adds approximately 15,000 solar photovoltaic panels—or 2.7 MW DC—to its current 1.85 MW or 10,000 solar panels—which will ultimately make the college the largest solar producing college in the world –for a system total of 4.55 MW DC of clean renewable energy generation capability. The college will generate over 6.381 million kW hours per year – enough electricity to power over 9,200 average-sized homes, or the equivalent of removing over 6,000 passenger cars from the roadways.

"Once this solar project is completed, Butte College will provide enough clean renewable energy to cover all of our electricity needs and generate slightly more than we use--which will be a source of additional revenue for the college," said Dr. Diana Van Der Ploeg, Butte College President. "Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do. Being the first grid positive community college in the country demonstrates our commitment to the sustainable practices we're modeling for our students and our communities."

Van Der Ploeg credits the college's transformation to a national leader in sustainability due to student engagement both at the college and in the community, infusion of sustainability into the curriculum, workforce development focused on green jobs, LEED certified buildings, sustainable land use management, and operation of the largest community college student transportation system in California.

The new 15,000 solar panels will be placed atop rooftops and will create covered parking areas and walkways, in addition to being mounted on the ground. The total funding for the project is $17 million, which $12.65 million is made possible by federal Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBS) which are low-interest loans that can be used for clean energy projects. The remainder, up to $4.35 million, will be funded by college.

According to Miller, the funding to pay for all of the solar projects, is the funding budgeted annually to purchase electricity from the grid, and for Phase III, almost $1 million in rebates from PG&E, the California Solar Initiative, and benefits from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act/CREBS allocations.

The Clean Renewable Energy Bonds for the project were arranged and funded by Bank of America as part of its 10 year, $20 billion business initiative to address climate change.

"Butte College is taking a true leadership role in helping California meet its clean energy goals," said John Rudberg, Energy Services sales executive for Banc of America Public Capital Corp. "We work with schools, colleges, public institutions and private companies across the country in energy efficient projects. We are pleased to continue helping Butte College on its path to becoming the only sustainable energy grid positive college in the nation."

The first component of the Phase 3 solar project includes the construction of 1,639 solar panels that will create covered parking spaces at the Butte College Chico Center and will generate 450kW DC. The installation of the 13 new solar arrays has started at the Chico Center campus and will culminate at the main campus. This project is scheduled to be completed by May 2011.

"This project directly employs local people, local vendors and provides a huge economic shot in the arm for Butte County. This is a sustainable project for everyone and saves money for taxpayers. All of Butte College's solar projects are projected to save the college over $150 million net over 30 years," said Mike Miller, Butte College Director of Facilities, Planning and Management.

When all of the college's solar projects are combined, the college will have a yearly reduction of over 6.9 million pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2), 27,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and 20,000 pounds of nitrogen oxide (NOX).

"This solar project helps the college come close to being climate neutral and allows the college to offer solar training classes, in addition to reducing energy costs and generating revenue," said Van Der Ploeg.

Chico Electric and DPR Construction, Sacramento formed Chico Electric DPR Energy JV for this project. The two companies bring expertise in LEAN project delivery and sustainable energy. LEAN construction is the collaborative design and construction methodology that incorporates all of the separate professional sub-groups, design disciplines and trade contractors into a cohesive management team. Norm Nielsen, owner of Chico Electric, is an alumnus of Butte College and has installed other solar projects at the college.

"This is a landmark project for Butte College and will make the college grid positive. Using solar will ultimately save the college money and help the environment. We're also excited that a number of the workers on this projects are apprentices who went through the college's solar installation training program," said Norm Nielsen, owner of Chico Electric.

Over the past several years Butte College has earned a number of national awards for sustainability leadership including the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) 2009 Campus Leadership Award, the 2009 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Green Power Partnership Award, the 2008 National Wildlife Association Campus Chill-Out Award, and several Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building certifications from the U.S. Green Building Council, 2010.

"This project serves as a model for other colleges and universities in meeting energy needs and supporting a green jobs economy," said Mark Cirksena, Regional Manager for DPR Construction in Sacramento. "According to the Environmental Information Administration's energy outlook a couple of years ago, buildings represented 72 percent of U.S. electricity consumption. Butte College should be commended for taking a leadership role and setting new standards for environmental responsibility."

Butte College, a single campus district, is located near the geographical center of Butte County, California. It has centers in Chico, the largest city in the district, and Orland in Glenn County. Because of its rural location, the college is unique among California Community Colleges because it operates as a self-contained city. To this end Butte College has its own water system, maintains its own sewage treatment facility, and operates the largest community college transportation system in California. The college implemented its first solar energy project in 2005 and its second in 2008.

In addition to the solar projects the college has developed sustainability-related career and technical education programs; infused sustainability into existing curriculum; created a sustainability studies certificate; conducted numerous student-led green events and activities; gained Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification on its Arts Building and is awaiting final approval of Gold Certification on Student and Administrative Services; developed and implemented a number of sustainability-related workforce development activities; recycles over 75 percent of its waste stream; and operates the largest community college transportation systems in California.

Butte College,, provides quality education, services, and workforce training to students who aspire to become productive members of a diverse, sustainable, and global society. We prepare our students for life-long learning through the mastery of basic skills, the achievement of degrees and certificates, and the pursuit of career and transfer pathways. The college has an annual enrollment of 21,000 full and part time students.

Butte College's Sustainability Facts:

  • Sustainability is included in the college's mission statement and is one of five initiatives in the college's strategic plan.
  • Butte College was one of the first community colleges to sign the American College and University President's Climate Commitment (ACUPCC)
  • Butte College operates the largest bus transportation system for any community college in California—taking approximately 1,300 cars off the road each day.
  • The college recycles 73-93 percent of its waste. Additionally, Dining Services partners with the Agriculture Department to compost approximately 1,500 pounds of pre-consumer food waste from the landfill per month.
  • In 2008, Butte College implemented a credit Green Building Certificate Program using funding provided by the National Science Foundation. In 2009, the courses that comprised this program were reformatted into a hybrid format. This program, which was the college's first step in developing comprehensive green technology career pathways, included the following courses: Green Building Technologies and Practices; Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; and Certification Test Preparation – geared toward LEED Advisor and Build It Green - Green Building Professional.
  • The college infuses sustainability into career and technical education programs. For example, the college's Auto Technology Department recently partnered with Pacific Gas & Electric to develop a statewide Electric Hybrid Vehicle Technology training program for PG&E fleet vehicle mechanics to service electric and hybrid vehicles.
  • In 2009-2010, the college used two grants obtained through the California Workforce Investment Board to develop and implement training programs for displaced workers in areas such as Solar Photovoltaic Design and Installation Principles, Green Building, Solar Hot Water Installation and Design Principles, and Energy Fundamentals. This training was delivered in Spring 2010.
  • Over the past two years, students in the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program have worked as interns on a Biofiltration Wetland Education Learning Laboratory (BeWELL) Project. This real-world project takes place on the Butte College campus and students are able to monitor stormwater runoff from a parking lot, identify chemicals in the runoff, calculate the amount of bioswale needed to biofilter these chemicals, construct the project, and monitor the results.
  • Butte College is an annual participant in the National Teach In on Global Warming Solutions—a major educational initiative that coordinates faculty and students at over 1,000 colleges, universities, and high schools in the U.S. to engage in a national, interdisciplinary discussion on "Stabilizing the Climate in the 21st Century.
  • The Sustainability Resource Center, funded and staffed by the Associated Students, features a wide variety of books, journals, magazines, and videos. The goal of the center is to be a hub of information for students, faculty, and staff to learn about various topics related to sustainability as well as practical guides on how to live and work more sustainably.
  • The Agriculture Department has gained organic certification on 26 acres where it grows fruit, hay, and wine grapes
  • The Clear Creek Riparian Restoration Project uses goats to consume 90% of the non-native vegetation and noxious weeds growing along 2.5 miles of Clear Creek.