Smart Grid

June 28, 2012

A 'Bright Idea' Gains Ground at Mercer County Community College

There’s something new under the sun on the 292-acre campus of Mercer County Community College (MCCC) in West Windsor, New Jersey—and it will save the school about $1 million annually, while it generates 75 percent of the electricity that the institution needs. 

In a lease-purchase agreement with New York City-based solar developer and financier SunLight General Capital, MCCC is deploying an 8-megawatt (MW) solar array, the largest on any college campus in the United States.

The photovoltaic solar plant, which will be ground-mounted on the east side of the college’s property, will be fully installed by the Mercer County Improvement Authority (MCIA) before year-end 2012—offsetting 7,500 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, 20 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions and 8.5 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions per year.  There is no upfront cost to the school.


MCCC is a signatory of the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), a pledge by hundreds of college and university presidents to:

·         Complete an emissions inventory,

·         Take immediate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,

·         Set a target date and interim milestones for becoming climate-neutral,

·         Integrate sustainability into the curriculum, and

·         Make the action plan, inventory, and progress reports available to the public.

According ACUPCC, to date, 473 solar photovoltaic installations have been deployed 295 campuses in 43 states and provinces nationwide. However, the 8-MW solar deployment by MCCC represents the most significant step by any of the participants— at least in terms of a renewable energy project— to meet the Climate Commitment goals.  

 “At MCCC, we have long made sustainability a core tenet of our institution and of our educational curriculum,” said Dr. Patricia Donohue, president of MCCC. “A large impetus for this project was abiding by our previous commitment to leading the way in reducing our carbon footprint. As a signatory of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), we have pledged to take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and integrate sustainability into the curriculum, and that is exactly what we are accomplishing with this project.”

After 15 years—and $15 million in savings— the MCIA and MCCC have several options that, if acted upon, could allow for an additional 10 years of energy savings to the college.

As pledged in the ACUPCC agreement, MCCC will foster academic opportunities for its 16,000 students—especially those interested in pursuing careers in solar/energy technology, engineering, and These are especially important considering that New Jersey is one of the 10 largest solar markets in the world, according to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities—and is nose-to-nose with California in terms of current deployments. New Jersey's thriving solar industry has created more than 3,500 new "green collar" jobs.

MCCC joins two other local educational institutions, which are turning to solar power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet energy demand. Princeton University is installing a 5.3-MW solar collector field on the 27 acres it owns in West Windsor; and the Lawrenceville School, a prep school in nearby Lawrenceville, New Jersey, is installing a 6-megawatt solar system on 30 acres of its campus.

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Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli