BHSU completes solar panel installation on Thomas Hall

Black Hills State University recently completed the installation of solar panels on Thomas Hall. This is the second dorm to receive solar panels after the new Bordeaux Hall received panels in July 2018. Pioneer photo by Leland Brokaw

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SPEARFISH—The second installation of solar panels on Black Hills State University’s Spearfish campus is complete. 

GenPro Energy Solutions, based out of Piedmont, finished construction and installation of 186, 370 watt solar panels on Thomas Hall in late May. The installation follows the placement of 220, 315 watt solar panels on the roof of Bordeaux Hall in July 2018.

In 2007, BHSU became South Dakota’s first university to be honored as a charter signatory of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, pledging to become carbon neutral by 2050, according to BHSU’s website. The project falls in compliance with that carbon neutrality pledge and BHSU’s Master Plan. 

“We are, by far, ahead of other state schools,” said Cory Johnson, energy manager for BHSU.

The solar panels currently on Bordeaux Hall and Thomas Hall offset around 20% of energy needs associated with those residence halls. 

“Both solar projects have less than a 15-year payback time. They will pay for themselves in less than 15 years,” said Eva Chase, sustainability coordinator at BHSU. 

Chase added that 20 percent is a conservative number with summer months producing more energy while most students are away for the summer.

The cost of construction and installation of the solar panels on Bordeaux Hall was $155,000 and $125,000 for Thomas Hall. 

Structural engineers came to campus to inspect roofs when the idea was first pitched and concluded that Wenona Cook and Woodburn weren’t built or currently suited for solar installations.

BHSU also boasts a wind turbine outside of the student union, but the wind turbine is largely symbolic to the dedication that BHSU has to renewable energy because it doesn’t produce the amount of electricity that solar energy or solar panels would, said Chase.

The Kathryn Johnson Life Sciences, E.Y. Berry Library, Young Center, and facility services buildings are all contenders for new installations and projects, said Johnson.

“This has been in the works for a couple years of doing a much bigger project that will power a much bigger portion of campus. We started with these smaller projects in Bordeaux and Thomas to kind of get a baseline and gauge the realism of it,” Chase said. “We’re moving onto bigger projects. A longer term project is in the works.” 

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