PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Officials at the University of Maine at Presque Isle and in U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office are excited about the potential for a solar energy development project that will reduce both the school’s energy costs and its carbon footprint.
Collins, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced Thursday that she had secured more than $6.6 million in federal funding for four Maine projects, including $800,000 for the UMPI solar energy initiative.
The funding is included in the fiscal year 2010 Energy and Water Senate Appropriations Conference Report that was approved Thursday by the full Senate.
Ian Swanberg, a spokesman for Collins, acknowledged Friday that President Barack Obama still has to sign the bill, but he said that the matter was essentially “a done deal.”
“The check is in the mail,” he added.
The money will fund the design and installation of photovoltaic solar panel arrays that help convert solar energy into electricity. The university also will establish an automated weather station to collect information on solar radiation levels. The station will provide baseline data for future use of solar energy, while also promoting undergraduate research.
The overall project will reduce electrical energy costs to the university, eliminate or reduce the need for additional air conditioning and provide a research and educational focus for the campus.
UMPI President Don Zillman said the project was suggested by UMPI’s Green Committee, a group of campus professionals who propose ways to make the university more environmentally friendly.
He was excited to hear news of the funding.
“We are thrilled with the support Congress has given us to achieve our goal to become as green a campus as possible,” he said Friday.
The university already has made strides in reducing its energy costs and its impact on the environment. In May, the campus installed a 600-kilowatt wind turbine on campus.
The turbine is expected to produce about 1 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year and save the institution more than $100,000 annually in electricity charges. The windmill also is expected to save an estimated 572 tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere each year.
The windmill is located about 30 yards from the baseball fields.
The campus has taken additional smaller steps to decrease energy use, such as using an energy-efficient system to heat the swimming pool in Gentile Hall and planting more flowers on campus to decrease the amount of lawn that needs to be mowed to save gas and reduce emissions.
Zillman said that the new solar development project “is certain to make us a standout campus in the University of Maine System and in the state” for its strategies to conserve energy and reduce overall energy costs.
Collins agreed, saying that the money will provide “critical assistance” to UMPI as it works to reduce its energy footprint. She also pointed out that the solar development project would help the campus “serve as a regional model for other businesses and schools.”
Zillman said that the campus would start the project “immediately” after the money is in hand.