Solar project highlights Sustainability Week
BLACKSBURG – Sustainable Blacksburg, the Town of Blacksburg and Virginia Tech teamed up for the sixth straight year to host several Sustainability Week events over three days this past week.
Sustainability Week, which won the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Bronze Award in 2008, began in 2007 as a “green partnership” between the three groups to raise sustainability awareness and education in the community.
Town of Blacksburg’s Director of Public Works Kelly Mattingly said the town believes the partnership is the best way to educate and engage the community in sustainability issues.
“Renewable energy is one of the many things we’re looking at,” Mattingly said. “Whether it’s environmental pollution, sustainable living or sustainable foods, we try to vary it up a little bit.”
Each fall, during Sustainability Week, participants are treated to various workshops, events and movies that highlight what sustainability is and provides them with practical sustainability applications.
Sustainable Blacksburg Representative Cathy Jacobs said it’s the spirit of the Blacksburg community that makes events like Sustainability Week possible.
“That’s one of the reasons so many of us live here is because there’s a real sense of togetherness and a real sense of trying to make this community as livable as it could possibly be,” Jacobs said. “It’s not difficult to get people to support these kinds of interests or to be interested in the issues just based on the turnout we’ve had at the events so far.”
This year, participants could attend several events around Blacksburg including a tour of the Smithfield Garden where the Sustainable Food Corps, a volunteer student organization, uses sustainable techniques to grow vegetable and food crops. Most of the food is donated to local food banks.
Additionally, electric vehicles were on display at the Blacksburg Public Library Tuesday night and a Sustainability Celebration took place Wednesday at the Blacksburg Farmers Market.
There were also tours of Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Sciences’ building II, a LEED Gold Certified research facility on campus, and a tour of Tech’s first solar photovoltaic project at the parking deck located at Perry Street and West Campus.
Sustainability Project Manager for Tech’s Office of Energy and Sustainability Dennis Cochrane said Tech is committed to being a leader in campus sustainability.
“This is the first solar project on campus and the hope is that it will lead to others,” Cochrane said. “You can’t miss it, it’s in a very visible place for our students who are always pushing for us to advance renewable energy.”
Cochrane said, during Earth Week in 2008, Tech President Charles Steger charged the then newly formed Energy and Sustainability Committee to develop a Climate Action Commitment and an accompanying sustainability plan for the campus.
In June 2009, the Climate Action Commitment and plan were unanimously approved by the Board of Visitors and became university policy, Cochrane added.
But, before all of that was possible, Cochrane said he received a little boost from his “green partnership” team members who approached him with a plan.
“Local citizens in Sustainable Blacksburg and the Town of Blacksburg joined forces and came to the university to say, ‘We have a lot of sustainability initiatives underway and we need you on the bandwagon,’” Cochrane said.
“When you look at the community, the community is the university,” Cochrane said. “We’re the 900-pound gorilla in the room and we need to be in the ballgame.”
Now, they’re in the ballgame.
Tech’s solar photovoltaic project began in 2010 after receiving a grant from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act through the Virginia Department of General Services.
Construction began in August 2011 and was completed eight months later in April. The 440 solar panels were placed on the top of the Perry Street parking structure to help reduce utility costs and the university’s carbon footprint.
Tech Project Manager David Chinn said the $1.3 million grant was used to build the solar panel project using only material made in the United States, per the requirements of the ARRA.
Chinn said the power generated from the solar panels is used to power the lights and various other operations inside the garage.
“I think the university has really tried in the last few years to make a concerted effort to be more responsible with its utilities,” Chinn said. “This is an example of the university trying to continue down that path of exploring and researching renewable resources.”
Mattingly believes the project will, in part, help the town reach its own Climate Action Agreement which aims at reducing emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
“You can’t do that without projects like this,” Mattingly said. “While it’s not our project, we consider Tech a part of our community and when community consumption goes down, the community emissions of carbon goes down too.”
Jacobs said the “green partnership” continues to look toward the future and will do everything it can to keep the community and university growing by keeping people in Blacksburg.
“It’s a special place,” Cochrane said.
“It is because to a large extent, people care about this and want to work together to do what’s right.”
There will be one more Sustainability Week event on Tuesday, Sept. 25. A tree planting, which was postponed due to rain, will take place at 1 p.m. on Tech’s campus. For more information about the event and Sustainability Week, visit http://www.facilities.vt.edu/sustainability/sustain_week.asp.
The Roanoke Times | 381-8627
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