Submitted by MCCC President Dr. Patricia Donohue
In recent weeks, there have been some questions from the community about the solar energy project to be installed by the Mercer County Improvement Authority (MCIA) at Mercer County Community College (MCCC). I would like to correct some inaccurate perceptions and emphasize to the MCCC student body the major academic and operational benefits of this renewable energy initiative.
The 8-megawatt installation will be situated on approximately 45 acres of open field owned by the college. NO air pollution, noise pollution, light pollution, traffic, or any other problems typically associated with development, will result. The closest solar panel to any private property is 100 yards – that’s the length of a football field.
We are excited about the solar project’s learning opportunities for students. Among the degree programs that will benefit are Solar/Energy Technology, Engineering Science, and our new Sustainability program (to begin in fall 2012). Horticulture students will help design the selection of new trees to replace any that will be removed. This project has been planned for over a year by numerous experts from the renewable energy sector. It has been presented to all governmental bodies as required. In addition, we have learned from the Mercer County Soil Conservation District that following the project’s completion, the soil at the site will actually be in better condition than it is now.
The environmental benefits are also beyond question. Project engineers estimate the installation will reduce annual atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to the benefits of a forest containing over 1,500 acres of pine or fir trees. The electricity generated is equivalent to what’s needed to power over 850 homes annually. The project will reduce the burden on the electricity grid, especially critical during peak usage periods. And, the project will reduce our dependence on foreign energy.
Also indisputable are the project’s financial benefits. The energy produced is expected to meet approximately 70 percent of the college’s needs on the West Windsor campus – that’s a savings of about $750,000 annually that will help to stabilize the college budget as we move forward.
Our plans have been well publicized in the media dating back to January of 2011. The college’s newsletter ran a front page story in summer 2011 that was mailed to 20,000 community members. Notices about the project were sent to individual homeowners and the MCIA has hosted two meetings where experts explained the project to residents and addressed their concerns. The first meeting was held in June of 2011 and the second was held in early April of 2012. A third meeting on May 31 will continue this dialog.
This MCIA/MCCC solar project breaks new ground in community college education as we prepare students for a world that will move further and further away from oil consumption into greener technologies. Detailed information is available at www.mcianj.org. Please take time to stay informed about our progress as we move forward.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This letter was submitted in response to an earlier letter to the editor submitted by Richard Campbell (Class of 2000) who wrote on behalf of MCCC neighbors who oppose the solar installation project. Campbell’s letter can be read by clicking here.