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UW-Platteville to build largest state-owned solar array



Existing rooftop panels at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville (Photo Credit: UW-Platteville)

After receiving state approval Thursday, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville will construct a 2.4 megawatter solar array in Memorial Park.

The site will be the largest solar array owned by a Wisconsin state agency and will make the university the sixth-highest on-site producer of renewable energy among higher education institutions in the nation, according to the university.  

“We are excited to take this momentous step in our commitment to sustainability,” Chancellor Dennis J. Shields said. “These efforts will save taxpayer money and have a lasting impact on future generations of Pioneers. I am proud that UW-Platteville can serve as a model of innovation and pave the way for other state agencies to follow suit.”  

Aerial View of Memorial Park

Scheduled to be operational by fall 2021, the array will feed directly into the main electricity meter connected to the 32 campus buildings, generating all electricity in real-time, rather than sending it back to the grid. It is anticipated to offset electricity by 17%, saving an annual $217,000 and reducing carbon emissions by 2,300 tons per year.  

Plans for the solar array stemmed from a 2018 petition that was signed by more than 300 UW-Platteville students, asking the university to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2030. In a May 2019 student referendum, more than 82% of UW-Platteville students agreed with moving toward this goal. This array is one of several projects the university is advancing in response to this student demand.  

A project team explored several locations for the array, before deciding on five acres of a south-facing hill just west of Pickard Hall. Rooftops and parking-lot awnings were ruled out due to cost, and other ground mount locations required significant tree removal.  A chain-link fence will surround the array, which will be installed with pilings. The array is expected to have a 30-year life and is designed to accommodate future battery storage. 

In addition to energy savings, the solar array is poised to bring additional hands-on learning opportunities across the university. Faculty have already incorporated projects into their coursework. Students in a sustainable and renewable energy systems course helped design the initial project; dairy science students formed a plan for sheep grazing under the array; and reclamation, environment, and conservation students developed a native pollinator seeding plan for the space. 

UW-Platteville offers a four-year renewable energy degree and recently launched a new environmental science and conservation degree. For more information about UW-Platteville’s sustainability planning, including the solar array, visit www.uwplatt.edu/department/sustainability.  

Kaitlyn Riley’s passion for communications started on her family’s dairy farm in Gays Mills, Wis. Wanting to share agriculture’s story, she studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club while volunteering as a news reporter for the college radio station. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. In her professional career, Kaitlyn has worked in radio, print and television news doing everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates, and putting back on her barn boots to chat with farmers in the field. Today, Kaitlyn can be seen covering local stories that matter to you in the La Crosse area.

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