Reposted from WCAX. By Deanna LeBlanc, Middlebury, VT – Jan. 26, 2012
Four girls from four different states only three semesters into college teamed up to make a big difference.
“You either had to write a paper or we had to do a project in Vermont or in Middlebury and we really wanted to do a project and have an impact on the school,” said Ali Rotatori, a sophomore.
As part of their studies in environmental economics, the girls were challenged to analyze Middlebury College’s plan to lease 34 solar trackers from AllEarth Renewables that would be installed in a field adjacent to Route 125.
“And we had already, as an administration, looked at the project and were seriously considering doing it and we needed sort of a final push and I think the students gave us that extra nudge,” said David Donahue of Middlebury College.
The solar project was the brainchild of another group of students, but this group picked up where the others– who have since graduated– left off.
“I also think it’s a function of this generation of students. They’re doers; they want to make a difference, they want to take what they learned right away and apply it as quickly as possible,” Donahue said.
The sophomores admittedly knew little about solar energy and had never drawn up a cost-benefit analysis, but they say that was what motivated them to succeed.
“It was cool to have a real life application and experience and it made the class that much more interesting and valuable for sure,” said Olivia French, a sophomore.
Each was posed with a different outcome to analyze; ensuring the investment to the college would pay off.
“So, I researched the subsidy,” sophomore Camille Seyler said. “Like how much of our overall benefit comes from the subsidy? And then what would happen if the government changed completely and they completely got rid of it? What would we do and would it still be a worthwhile deal?”
“We also wanted to look at what would happen if there were any problems, so I did an analysis of like if the company was to go bankrupt at any point,” said Spencer Petterson, a sophomore.
The girls deemed that with current government incentives, installing the panels would actually save the college between $5,000 and $10,000 per year or about 1 percent of its carbon footprint. And while 1 percent may not seem like much, it’s enough to power one of the largest residence halls on campus for a year.
Donahue says this kind of hands-on learning is what sets Middlebury apart.
“I think the traditional liberal arts and the theoretical is still critically important, but I think more and more faculty are interested in working with students to take that and find ways they can apply that,” Donahue said.
And while the panels create an opportunity for savings, Donahue says more importantly, the panels will bring in more opportunities to learn.
The solar panels should be installed this spring. This is one of many renewable projects the college is taking on as part of its goal to be carbon neutral by 2016.