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Make Energy While the Sun Shines!

On a warm, sunny, September afternoon, a new solar array at the Organic Farm quietly produces energy on the south side of the barn. This unassuming installation is the beginning, we hope, of an energy transformation at Dartmouth. And, to us, it makes sense that it started here.

Dartmouth has a long history of supporting creative, passionate students who have a good idea and the grit to follow it through. The Organic Farm and the Sustainability Program themselves are the direct result of advocacy by students now living far away from Hanover, well launched into their professional lives. Each blossomed from an idea planted by a student or group of students, nourished by their collegiate descendants and now bearing fruit. In fact, nearly everything we do began this way, with a student who had an idea. In 2015, a team of students began working on energy challenges. Two of them, Jill Horing and Meghan Duff, led a team focused on getting one small but tangible solar project installed on the Dartmouth campus. Their analysis correctly showed that solar is cost competitive with grid electricity and provides long term price stability as a benefit, in addition to environmental advantages. From the perspective of the office, getting one small project done had the possibility of big impact: Showing what is possible, even on a small scale, has the effect of bringing bigger projects into reach.

Students on the Energy Task Force (a volunteer team of student analysts) applied for and won funding for the new solar array from the Community Green Fund, a small portion of our Green Revolving Loan Fund reserved for projects that arise from the community. Then students asked for and received bids from solar companies, completed a review process and selected a solar provider. Next, the Sustainability Office and Planning, Design and Construction helped navigate insurance, zoning and construction hurdles. These took longer than planned but paved the way for future projects.

In June, just in time for the bright summer sun, the panels were installed. Shortly after that, Dartmouth finalized negotiations on a second solar array. Now both sets of panels are doing their job, producing low cost solar energy. And, even more importantly, Dartmouth is beginning to identify new roofs that might host solar installations and might, collectively, take a meaningful bite out of our electricity consumption.

As usual, our students have led the way, pushing us (sometimes gently prodding) and good- naturedly doing the work to show us a new direction. Much as the rich soil of the Organic Farm, built up by twenty years of students adding compost and taking their turn at stewardship, is now nourishing luxurious crops of vegetables and supporting the experience of the class of ’21, the hard work of the Energy Task prepared the ground for a new crop, a growing collection of solar panels dotting the Dartmouth landscape and quietly but effectively transforming our energy future.

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