Occidental Solar Power Project

J. Tranquanda, Occidental College

As part of an effort to stimulate interest in alternative energy production, Occidental College is proposing the installation of a 1-megawatt solar array on two undeveloped acres of the southwest-facing slope of Fiji Hill, and on solar shade structures on an adjacent parking lot. The project would generate approximately 11% of Occidental’s annual power usage. (Electricity accounts for more than two-thirds of the College’s utility costs, and 75% of its direct carbon consumption.) The array would remove 1,250 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year – the equivalent of removing about 250 cars from the road. Half of the project’s $7.7 million cost would be covered by a rebate from the DWP.

As a liberal arts college, Occidental is taking what might be called a liberal arts approach to the array – one that combines science, engineering, and art to address the aesthetics of solar arrays in a creative way. With panels mounted just two to three feet above the ground, the array will hug the topography of the slope in a curving design based on a mathematical expression known as a hysteresis loop. The project cost reflects a premium the College will pay to use SunPower panels, which are most efficient (at roughly 20%) panels available and thus limit the array’s footprint. This project provides an economy of scale that rooftop installations could not match; even if the college installed arrays on every building, they would not produce more than 20% of the power the proposed array will provide.

Photos taken from neighborhoods north, west, and south of the proposed array site show that only a limited number of residents on the west and south will be able to see the hillside portion of the array at a distance of three-quarters of a mile to a mile. An analysis by Physics Professor Dan Snowden-Ifft shows that only a small number of homeowners to the west-southwest might experience a brief reflection off the array between 8 and 9 a.m. in June and July.

To help make solar power more affordable for the community at large, Occidental also has arranged for the manufacturer of its solar panels, SunPower, to offer a rebate on rooftop solar installations to homeowners and small business owners in the 90041, 90042, and 90065 zip codes. The College will hold a series of solar power workshops this summer for community members, who could save from $1,500 to $2,000 on a typical residential installation with the SunPower rebate.

More public meetings will be held, keep an eye out for announcements.


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