UT unveils $2 million solar panel system at Pickle Research Campus

Victoria Pagan

Vice president for university operations Pat Clubb flipped an enormous green switch Thursday, celebrating the University’s newly completed solar panel project at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus.

A $1.6 million grant from the State Energy Conservation Office funded most of the $2 million, three-month project, which consists of two arrays of panels located on opposite sides of the campus. They are capable of producing just over 400,000 kilowatt-hours of renewable energy yearly. Combined, the arrays make up Austin’s largest solar panel system.

Clubb said she was glad when Steve Kraal Sr., associate vice president for campus planning and facilities management, finally set the project in motion.

“A couple of years ago if you would have said something about sustainability to Steve he would have said ‘Yes I support it,’ but there was nothing that could really be done until recently,” Clubb said. “This project will now save 300 tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted.”

He said projects such as this one allow the University to serve as a learning laboratory for students, teachers and the community as a whole. She said the project is just one of the University’s first steps toward helping both the environment and generations to come.

The solar panels were contracted by Jamail & Smith Construction and sub-contracted by the Texas Solar Power Company of Austin.

Texas Solar Power Company of Austin general manager and UT alumnus Mark Rangel said he was glad to work on the project because it helped the community environmentally, economically and socially.

“This project will generate 42 homes worth of power each year,” Rangel said. “It was emotional to see that we are actually putting people to work, and I actually feel like I’m getting some of my tuition back from the University of Texas.”

Associate director of facilities services Juan Nunez said the project hit a few hurdles but overall was a great success. He said the greatest extent of project issues came from days of bad weather and parts not being delivered on time.

Nunez said he was satisfied with the work of the contractors and their ability to meet the deadline they originally set.

“We said we would be generating power by May 31 so that everything could be inspected and tested and it was ready,” Nunez said. “What was impressive is that we didn’t need a shutdown of the building to start generating power like we had originally thought.”

Nunez said electricity use and generated power at the campus will be monitored daily and inspectors will be able to know immediately if any problems arise.