Butte College Proves “Grid Positive” Possible

When Butte College publicly stated its goal in 2008 to become grid positive by 2012, the campus sustainability community watched developments closely, wondering how Butte would achieve this goal.  The technical, financial, and staffing barriers would be formidable, we all knew from experience organizing sustainability at our own campuses and organizations.

The college’s announcement recently, covered by Chanel 10 news and local media, that it had become grid positive ahead of schedule, came as a welcome surprise, signaling the first time we are aware of that a campus is generating more electricity through solar photovoltaic panels than they use.

This is significant for the US and world.  As a leading global source of greenhouse gas pollution, the US is in need of models such as Butte’s that provide a path towards a healthy future. This kind of large-scale shift towards cleaner forms of energy not only provides students hands-on opportunities to gain 21st century skills, it also directly boosts local employment providing jobs for displaced workers and newly trained students (e.g. see Butte’s green jobs center).

The impressive solar installation is just one facet of Butte’s sustainability efforts.  They have also diverted a larger percentage of their waste than most campuses, restored a large wildlife habitat area, designed buildings that define new standards for energy efficiency, and operate a transit program that reduces traffic in the community.  They won the national green campus awards-Chill Out- in 2008 (see video) and were also a featured school in the national campus environmental report card detailing trends in higher education management, curriculum and operations for sustainability (both programs of the National Wildlife Federation’s Campus Ecology initiative). They are also a signatory to the prestigious President’s Climate Commitment through which almost 700 US college and university leaders aim to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

On behalf of our Campus Ecology team and all of my colleagues here at National Wildlife Federation (along with our partners in the Greenforce Initiative at Jobs for the Future), congratulations and thanks to President Van Der Ploeg for having the courage to set such a bold goal for human health and ecology and to Mike Miller, Butte’s director of facilities planning and management, for helping define a new path forward and assisting others at schools all across the US and world along the way.