Colorado Public Works Journal, Spring-Summer 2020

12 Colorado Public Works Journal Lighting the Way: CSU Pueblo Nears Net-Zero Goals with Solar Field by Robert Davis Photo credit: Christian Muniz with Johnson Controls Inc As students were wrapping up their spring semester classes, Colorado State Univer- sity – Pueblo (CSUP) signed a $17 million power purchase agreement with Johnson Controls, Inc., Black Hills Energy, and Capital Dynamics to develop a 7MW solar gar- den as the main source of power for the university. This one-of-a-kind project will bring CSUP closer to being the first net-zero electric school in the state. “One of the eight guiding princi- ples is for this institution to live sustainably where we as an institution dedicate resources and develop programs and policies that support sustainable living,” CSUP President Timothy Mottet said at a press conference in February. The project aligns with the school’s Vision 2028 plan, an interdiscipli- nary approach to improving the university’s relationship with the Pueblo community while creating new educational experiences for students on campus. One of the plan’s core tenants is committing to the health and well-being of the Pueblo community. Mottet says the project will also help solidify CSUP’s financial sustainability into the future. According to the university’s 2018 financial report, CSUP has seen its net assets slashed nearly in half since 2008. Between 2017 and 2018 alone the net position of the University declined by $20.7 mil- lion. Part of the decline in assets is due to ballooning operation and maintenance costs and skyrocketing utility costs, something most Pueblo residents can empathize with. Residents pay an average of $0.16 KWh, 42 percent greater than the average price in Colorado and 40 percent higher than the na- tional average, according to Electricity Local, which tracks electrical usage in cities across the country. CSUP attempted to cut back its utility costs in 2008 when it teamed up with Black Hills Energy to build a 1 MW solar field which at the time was one of the nation’s largest solar fields for an educational in- stitution. That installation was able to produce about 10 percent of the university’s electrical needs. However, the power generated from that system wasn’t enough to create meaningful utility cost savings for the university because Pueblo’s aging power distribution system makes electrical rates ex- tremely volatile for residents and businesses alike. Black Hills Energy estimates that the regions power bills could increase approximately $330 per user within the next 20 years if Pueblo doesn’t modernize its system. To combat this potential future, Pueblo’s city council passed a reso- lution in 2017 committing the city to be 100-percent powered by re- newable energy by 2035. CSUP is already well on its way to meeting this goal, and is beating the four greening government goals in Exec- utive Order D 2019 016 from Governor Jared Polis. The executive order requires a reduction of greenhouse gases by at least 10 percent below levels from 2014-2015 and reducing energy consumption per square foot by at least 15 percent by 2023. The solar garden will drastically reduce Co2 emissions from campus and will stabilize CSUP’s electricity costs for the next 25 years. It is estimated to save the university $2 million in guaranteed excess sav- ings over the term. “This solar project required collaboration from multiple fronts on campus, but we’re especially grateful for the work of Johnson Con- trols, Inc. and Capital Dynamics. This is a big win for CSU-Pueblo,” Craig Cason, Associate Vice President for Facilities Management, said in a statement.