New West Campus Solar Farm to Provide Power to UC Riverside

When it comes online this summer, the 11-acre site will produce three megawatts of electricity

map of campus detailing solar farm

Despite covering nearly 11 acres on the West Campus, the new UCR solar farm will be largely hidden from the view of the general public. Photo illustration courtesy UCR Physical Plant

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — The sun has always been a major part of the identity of the University of California, Riverside, so much so that it is even incorporated into the school’s logo. But starting in the summer of 2014, the sun will be providing more than beautifully sunny days – it will also be providing electrical power to the campus and saving the university, and taxpayers, millions of dollars in the process.

UCR is partnering with SunPower Corporation to install a 10.92-acre solar farm on a West Campus open space surrounded by Parking Lot 30 and the UCR Community Garden to the south, the 60/215 freeway to the east and the International Village Apartments to the west. Upon completion, scheduled for July 2014, the facility will generate about three megawatts of electricity.

“Three megawatts is about 30% of our base load on a daily basis. Our peak load is 17 or 18 megawatts,” Ken Mueller, director of Physical Plant Operations said. “This is a good start and the campus will use 100% of the power that we generate.”

solar farm

An example of how the solar farm might look. Photo courtesy of UCR Physical Plant

UCR signed a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) and site license agreement (SLA) that will allow SunPower to construct, operate and maintain the facility, and the university will purchase the power that is generated by the dozens of 435-watt solar panels that will track the path of the sun through the sky. Mueller said that UCR will spend about $350,000 on site clearing and preparation, as well as interconnections costs with the existing substation.

The projected savings to the university is $4.3 million over the length of the contract. UCR will also receive carbon and LEED credits that provide additional financial and environmental savings.

SunPower is no stranger to the UC system, having previously worked with UC Merced to install a one-megawatt solar array there in 2009.

The project supports the system-wide University Policy on Sustainable Practices, which calls on each campus to contribute to the production of up to 10 megawatts of on-site renewable power by 2014, as well as campus-specific sustainability strategies detailed in UCR’s 2005 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP). The UCR photovoltaic system will be the largest at any UC campus and, combined with other UCR-based projects, will increase photovoltaic generation within the city of Riverside by 40%.

The UCR project required a 20-year amendment to the LRDP, as that land had been previously earmarked for academic uses, a parking structure, campus support or open space. The campus has the ability to terminate the PPA and SLA if the solar farm is deemed necessary for any of the purposes outlined in the LRDP.

“As UCR expands into West Campus, we’ll likely see this solar farm replaced by another structure. But for now and the foreseeable future, this solar farm is an outstanding use of the land,” Mueller said.

Mueller said that the university hadn’t previously utilized solar power on campus because it did not make financial sense.

“We have had very favorable electrical rates with Riverside Public Utilities, but recently the price of solar has come down to where it is competitive with that electrical rate,” Mueller said. “We will be getting the most cost-effective solar array on the market.”

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