Sun rising on campus solar energy plan

By Zach Colick
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 15, 2005

Visitors Center targeted as first installment site

Associated Students of the University of Arizona leaders have the gears in place to install solar energy panels on a campus building by the end of the school year, but the likelihood of the project depends on teamwork between students, administration and possibly alumni.

One of ASUA President Cade Bernsen's goals for the year was to help install solar panels on at least one academic building around campus to help cut energy costs and be a friend to Mother Earth.

So far, the plan is to install solar panels on the UA Visitors Center by May 2006. Bernsen said the plan, which may cost upwards of $150,000, looks promising.

Though initial costs may seem hefty, Bernsen said, the UA Visitors Center is a great starting point for the solar energy project because of the building's smaller size and its use by alumni, who he hopes will be a major financial asset for the project's success.

"We have 300-plus days of sunshine in Arizona, and we need to look at more responsible ways to look at these energies because of our prime location," said Bernsen, a political science senior. "If we can plant the seeds for today, then we can save down the road."

But before the project can become a reality, student leaders must await Facilities Management's cost and feasibility analysis study of the Visitor's Center to make sure it's a viable option for such a project, said Albert Tarcola, director of Facilities Management.

Once Facilities Management finishes the study, Tarcola said it plans on matching the funds raised up to $75,000 by ASUA and the Energy Conservation and Lifestyles Initiative Partnering Students and their Environment, a nonprofit student group that first worked toward the goal of introducing solar energy projects to campus last year.

"If students are willing to come up with money to support this, then the school should do the same or at least meet them halfway," Tarcola said. "More and more of these projects are needed to help make sure the cost of energy goes down and this is one of them."

Along with ASUA senators, the invite has gone out to students, faculty and the administration to get involved in the project, which will launch with a twofold campaign by Oct. 3, Bernsen said.

"Our chances of success are high with this teamwork," Bernsen said.

The awareness component will include speakers and handing out T-shirts and buttons on the UA Mall. The fundraising component includes forming a Web site that can inform the university community about energy-saving measures and solicit donations to the cause, said Sen. Matthew Boepple.

"(ASUA) has a vision for the future and are looking towards it," said Boepple, a political science sophomore. "The benefits will be seen right away."

Along with Facilities Management, Bernsen is also working hand in hand with Eclipse, which wanted students to vote in favor of a $2 fee to help fund solar energy on campus last year. ASUA initially denied such a measure because of the already-implemented campus fees, but agreed to make the promising effort a reality this year.

Nicole Sanderson, president of Eclipse, said this semester she has been meeting weekly with ASUA to campaign about the issue. Generating awareness about solar energy and exploring donor-funding options are crucial for the project's success, she said.

Funding the project shouldn't be burdensome after more than 4,000 signatures were tallied in support of renewable energies on campus last year and interest is still peaking, Sanderson said.

"Student support says a lot about long-term planning for future projects and our environment," said Sanderson, an anthropology junior.