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University of Wyoming

Trapper Rieniets and Garet Morton study together on Feb. 14, 2015, at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

New solar panels at the University of Wyoming will cut the university’s carbon footprint by 50 tons of carbon dioxide per year, thanks in part to $76,200 from Rocky Mountain Power Blue Sky customers.

The solar panels, recently installed at UW Ford Lot at War Memorial Stadium, will provide most of the energy used by the UW Indoor Practice Facilities.

“Renewable energy projects like this one are a great way for the university to save money, especially at a time when budgets are tight,” said Nicole Korfanta, director of the Ruckelshaus Institute, in a news release. “The grant from the Blue Sky program helped defray some of the up-front costs and allows us to start saving right away.”

The project was a collaborative effort of Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming Physical Plant and Campus Sustainability Committee.

“It was an effort to diversify the university energy portfolio, while maintaining our commitment to other sources of energy. It helps offset the university’s carbon footprint,” said Kit Freedman, research scientist at Ruckelshaus.

The indoor practice facility uses about 800 kilowatt hours of electricity per day on average, he said.

“That is a large building that has some pretty steep energy requirements,” he added.

About 40 percent of the solar project was paid for by the university, Freedman said.

The other 60 percent of the project’s cost came from a grant: the Blue Sky Community Fund Award from Rocky Mountain Power.

More than 4,000 people in Wyoming pay a few extra dollars on their electricity bill every month to support renewable energy efforts in the state. That money goes two places.

The money first goes towards community projects, like the solar panels at UW.

“During the past 15 years, Blue Sky customers have supported more than 5 billion kilowatt-hours of renewable energy -- enough power for more than half a million homes for a year," said Paul Murphy, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power. "However, Blue Sky is a voluntary program and it could do even more for renewable energy if more customers choose to support it.”

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Blue sky also funds renewable energy projects by buying renewable energy credits, said Paul Murphy, spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power.

“The [Environmental Protection Agency] has a system where if the electricity is coming from a renewable project like wind or solar, you can sell those environmental attributes, he said. “We buy recs with blue sky money: It’s a way for customers to say, ‘I want all the electricity I use to come from renewable energy.’”

When a developer builds a wind or solar project, part of the guaranteed return on investment is the value of renewable energy credits, Murphy said.

Wyoming is not the only state contributing to Blue Sky, Murphy said. Including Utah, Idaho and sister companies in Oregon, Wyoming and California there are more than 150,000 Blue Sky customers contributing to renewable energy and community projects.

“Electricity does not flow from a specific source to a specific customer, but the exact amount of energy purchased through the Blue Sky program is purchased from a renewable source.”

Blue Sky grants have paid for a number of other renewable energy projects in the region: at UW, in Laramie and in Natrona County.

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Follow education reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner.

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