When Brad Moats was a student at Pellissippi State, he looked around and noticed something.
“There were no solar panels on campus,” says Moats, who now serves as the College’s Sustainable Campus Coordinator.
Moats, who was volunteering as a student recycling worker while pursuing his Associate of Arts degree, submitted a proposal to Pellissippi State’s Sustainable Campus Committee before he graduated in 2014.
Four years later, Moats saw his dream come true.
Pellissippi State completed its first solar panel installation on the Hardin Valley Campus during summer 2018. Located near the campus’ main entrance off Solway Road, the solar panels generate power that goes back into the Lenoir City Utility Board system for a credit.
“The solar panels are a teaching tool for Electrical Engineering Technology and Sustainable Design students,” explains Regina McNew, director of Facilities for Pellissippi State. “They track and collect energy from the sun and convert that to electricity. There is a meter and display on the array that shows students the amount of energy that is stored and converted to AC (alternating current) power.
From June through September 2018, the solar panels saved Pellissippi State $655 on its electric bills.
Next up will be solar panel monitoring signage located adjacent to the Information Center, so that anyone who is interested will be able to see real-time data from the solar panels. This signage also will illustrate different ways to interpret those energy savings, from the amount of money saved to the reduction in carbon released into the atmosphere to the amount of coal diverted from campus.
“That is the community connection we really wanted,” says Moats, who returned to Pellissippi State as the College’s full-time Sustainable Campus Coordinator in April 2017.
Pellissippi State already offers solar charging stations on three of its campuses, Moats adds. Located in the Hardin Valley Campus courtyard, on the Division Street Campus east pavilion and on the Strawberry Plains Campus near the Career Magnet Academy, these solar charging stations feature electrical outlets so that staff and students can plug in their laptops, phones and other electrical devices and charge them using solar energy, he explains.
“The solar energy is stored in the solar charging station so that it works even when it’s not sunny,” Moats stresses.
Sustainability has been a focus at Pellissippi State since at least 2010, when students petitioned the Tennessee Board of Regents to add a $10 “green fee” to their student fees to help fund sustainability initiatives on the College’s five campuses.
“It was a referendum, and a little over 1,500 students cast ballots,” Moats says, noting he keeps the ballots in his office as a reminder of the passion behind the movement. “It was student led and student driven.”
That fee helps fund sustainability projects, like the solar panel installation.
“It took us a few semesters to save up the money – about $20,000 at a time,” Moats says. “At $120,000, it’s our largest sustainability project to date.”
Ideas for sustainability projects come from Pellissippi State faculty, staff and students via submissions to the College’s Sustainable Campus Committee. One of those proposals – to replace the stage lighting in the Clayton Performing Arts Center – saved thousands of dollars in energy costs, according to Moats.
Another Facilities project in the works funded by the Sustainable Campus Committee is retrofitting a portion of overhead lighting in five buildings on the Hardin Valley Campus with LED lamps that will fit the existing light fixtures.
“Pellissippi State Facilities is committed to the Sustainable Campus Initiative,” McNew says. “We strive to operate our existing lighting and HVAC building equipment efficiently and effectively by decreasing or limiting equipment runtime as much as possible while still providing a comfortable, safe and effective environment for our students, faculty and staff.”
For example, all Pellissippi State classrooms are equipped with motion and occupancy sensors on their light switches. These switches automatically turn off the lights when classrooms are not occupied, and soon the third floor of the McWherter Building on the Hardin Valley Campus will use similar technology in the hallways, too.
“We have been working with Brad and the Sustainable Campus Committee to fund the installation of motion sensors in the hallways for several years, as the hallways were never included in the original Tennessee Board of Regents retrofit project,” McNew notes.
Pellissippi State’s Blount County Campus, which opened in fall 2010, incorporated motion sensors and daylight harvesting in its classroom lighting, as well as water-saving plumbing. Pellissippi State Facilities continues to look for ways to retrofit its other campuses with sustainable solutions as funding allows.
“Facilities has completed numerous capital maintenance projects in the past five years to replace older, less manageable HVAC equipment with new energy efficient, digitally controlled equipment,” McNew explains. “Facilities uses every opportunity we can get to advance Pellissippi State’s support of the Sustainable Campus Initiative in our operations.”