University of Denver to make its electricity 100% solar within three years – The Colorado Sun

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The University of Denver’s push for national name recognition in sports has proven wildly successful, with another hockey championship in 2024 and top programs in lacrosse, soccer and gymnastics. Now the southeastern Denver anchor is doubling down on becoming a green energy leader for its peers. 

DU, with partner Pivot Energy, plans to build enough new solar panels on campus and at dedicated solar farms in surrounding counties to completely offset university electricity use within about three years. 

The push to install 23 megawatts of panels dedicated to DU’s energy use is a key part of the institution’s commitment to become net zero in carbon emissions by 2030, said Lynn Bailey, director of energy and sustainability for the southeastern Denver campus.

Next up on the green energy list: cutting way back on natural gas used to heat DU’s buildings and hot water. 

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DU started its solar era in 2019, working with Pivot to install 2.2 MW of panels on 18 campus buildings. In the next phase, Pivot will add 1.2 MW more on campus, with a new array on the expansive rooftops of the Ritchie Center sports complex. (Home of the hockey Pioneers, who last month won their 10th national championship and second in three years, accumulating more trophies than storied schools from Minnesota, Michigan and Massachusetts.) 

Pivot will build the other 22.2 MW for DU at dedicated sites in Larimer, Adams, Mesa and Weld counties, over the next two to three years, Bailey said. In most cases, DU will be taking 100% of the power from those far-flung solar arrays, providing Pivot certainty and simplicity among its energy customers. 

The solar expansion alone will wipe out half of DU’s remaining carbon footprint as it seeks other projects to meet the 2030 net zero carbon goal. 

“We’ve always been trying to figure out other ways to work with DU because we knew they had ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals,” said Pivot vice president of strategic partnerships Mat Elmore. “It’s been a great match so far.”

Pivot says an added motivation for DU and other institutions who are landlords of large square footage are the Denver and statewide building emissions reductions mandated in recent rule changes. Colorado’s rules seeking greenhouse gas reductions from big buildings require commercial buildings larger than 50,000 square feet to cut building-related emissions by 20% in 2030. 

A “solar tree” next to the Shwayder Art Building, May 1, 2024, at the University of Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Those rules are now subject to an injunction-seeking lawsuit filed by major landlords like apartment associations, but remain in effect for now and may survive the legal challenge. 

Colorado law allows DU to get net metering credit for solar power it creates, even when at offsite locations like Pivot’s community solar sites, Elmore said. 

“That program is really made for, in my opinion, large campuses or large energy users that just can’t install enough on-site generating capacity to meet their needs” but who have ambitious climate change targets, he said. 

Pivot has developed 79 Colorado solar projects producing up to 70.8MW of electricity, with 124 more in the pipeline that would bring on 530MW. Nationally, the company has developed 179MW and has 2,714MW in the pipeline. A megawatt can serve 400 to 1,000 households, depending on the size of the home or apartment and how many appliances are electric. 

The number of off-site, net-metered megawatts allowed to come online in a given year is limited, according to Pivot, which says it is the largest solar developer in Colorado. 

“Bottom line is we have far more demand than supply for this particular program,” Elmore said. 

Type of Story: News

Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

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