By Jerry Brown
Colorado State University’s colors are green and gold.
Officially, the colors recognize the school’s agricultural heritage as a land-grant university.
But CSU has become very green when it comes to producing and saving clean energy. And it’s doing it in ways that save the school a lot of money, turning green into gold.
I was part of a group from the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce that recently toured two very different sites on CSU’s Foothills Campus in Fort Collins where CSU is producing energy that saves the school money and helps the environment.
Our first stop was a biomass boiler that burns wood chips from trees killed by pine beetles and wildfires into heat used by buildings on the campus. It’s a joint demonstration project by CSU and the Colorado Forest Service to develop a market for the timber from trees killed by the beetles and wildfires.
In its second year, the demonstration project is proving very successful, says Carol Dollard, an energy engineer for CSU’s Facilities Department.
The boiler burns about 245 tons of wood chips per year, a tiny fraction of what’s available. But it’s one creative example of how to tackle the problem of getting rid of all those dead trees.
A factsheet on the project says the heating plant saves CSU about $10,000 a year in fuel costs. The figure actually is higher than that, Dollard says, because the heating plant is operating more efficiently than it was when the factsheet was prepared.
Our other stop was a 30-acre, 5.3 megawatt solar power system. It produces about one-third of the electricity used on the Foothills Campus and will save the university an estimated $6 million over its lifetime.
It’s one of the largest solar systems on a university campus in the United States.
The solar system was built in two phases, covering 15 acres each. Phase 1, completed in 2009, uses movable photovoltaic panels that track the sun. Phase 2 was completed last year and uses photovoltaic panels fixed into place.
The system was funded through a public-private partnership of CSU, Xcel Energy and Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV). FRV owns and operates the system. CSU purchases the power under a contract that guarantees the price it will pay for the for the next 20 years.