A Bright Idea!

Considering the fact that sustainability is both a major and minor here at Paul Smith’s College – was Natural Resource Sustainability, but now Sustainable Communities and Working Landscapes – one could say the interest in renewable practices is high within the campus community. Although the mounting of the solar panels brought awareness and excitement to many, it grasped the attention of one student in particular: Valerie Hoffman.  Valerie Hoffman is the Energy Assistant for the Campus Sustainability Office. And as my co-worker, I often see and hear about her passion for diverse forms of sustainable practices and renewable energy. But before we get into her involvement with the solar display, let me provide you with a little background information on the college and its pursuing goals for renewable energy.


Renewable energy is a concept discussed broadly both in-and-outside of the classroom here at Paul Smith’s. It is defined as an energy source that cannot be depleted. There are various types, but the five most common are wind power, geothermal, hydroelectricity, biomass, and solar power. In 2007, the college signed the President’s Climate Commitment and decided to reach carbon neutrality by 2029. The installation of different forms of renewable energy on the campus, such as the solar array, is a significant step towards achieving this goal; it also supports our educational mission by providing an outstanding instructive tool on campus.


Last Spring, Paul Smith’s senior, Devon Tibbils, proposed the installation of a 12.24 kw roof-mounted solar array on the Joan Weill Adirondack Library to the Campus Sustainability Fund with the help from his co-participants Dr. Curt Stager and Steve McFarland as well as project leader Katharine Glenn. The objectives of the proposal are to (1) generate electricity from a renewable energy resource which would offset the college’s current electricity consumption with a clean energy resource-contributing to the college’s goal of reaching carbon neutrality, (2) promote solar energy development in the Adirondack Park, (3) provide an educational tool for classes, students, and the surrounding community, and lastly (4), serve as a symbol of our college communities’ commitment to renewable energy while also promoting the option of solar energy in the Adirondack Park. The proposal allows those on campus the ability to view the panels daily and the rate at which they are generating electricity, via internet access.


This December, one fifth of the entire solar array was mounted, and is currently in use. Paul Smith’s uses 4,000,000 kWh (kilowatt-hours) of electricity annually, but with the full solar collection, the panels will supply the college with 1% of its yearly electricity use.


In the following interview, Hoffman set out to consult Dr. Curt Stager, professor of natural sciences here at Paul Smith’s, about his long term support for the project.


Valerie Hoffman: How did you get the idea to purchase solar panels?


Dr. Curt Stager: I got the idea during an Open House event when several parents of prospective students asked why we don’t have solar panels on campus. I explained that we have lots of other sustainability features, from a pellet boiler at Freer to the LEED-certified Overlook dorm and Paolozzi Center.  But all they cared about was solar panels, so I figured why not get some and put them up on the library roof where everyone could see them.


VH: How was the first one purchased?


CS: I wanted it to happen quickly, so I passed a hat around among the faculty and raised about half the cost, and then I paid the rest myself.


VH: What would you like done with the one you purchased?


CS: The panel that we faculty purchased was meant to be more of a symbol of commitment to   sustainable forms of energy, and to eventually have a complete array of solar panels mounted all over the south-facing roof of the library.  I think it would be nice to use the faculty panel for some small creative thing that everyone could see easily, maybe to power some lights at the flagpole garden for example.


VH: Where do you see the college going in terms of energy consumption?


CS: I hope the college continues to find new ways to reduce energy use and find alternative energy sources as an example for others in the region.


VH: What is the next step in your eyes?


CS: Perhaps replacing fossil fuels with sustainable energy in the college’s investment portfolio could be a next step to aim for, because many other colleges are now reinvesting away from fossil fuels too.


Hoffman interviewed Stager because of his influence in bringing solar panels to Paul Smith’s. There is enough sunlight to make solar energy a feasible option everywhere in the United States. New York, alone, has the capability of generating around 4kWh of electricity for every one meter squared of solar panels each day. Thus, allowing it to be a reasonable alternative energy source.


Recently Hoffman proposed a project to the Campus Sustainability Fund called Mobile Solar Education Center. The goal of her project is to directly show how solar energy is created in a mobile unit. The unit can be transported into classrooms and all around campus which gives it the opportunity to be used as an educational resource. This mobile unit would also be using the solar panel Stager and fellow faculty purchased.


Paul Smith’s and the Campus Sustainability Fund is always open to new sustainable proposals that will not only educate the community, but better the environment and the Adirondack Park. If you have any ideas, please do not hesitate to submit them!





You can check out the performance of how our solar display is doing on our Energy page!