CSU Pueblo

Working on sunshine

Solar array produces energy offsets
Woman stands in a field with solar panels.

Feb. 13, 2023

FOR MORE THAN A YEAR, CSU Pueblo has worn a green crown: It is the first college campus in Colorado to reach net-zero energy efficiency. That means CSU Pueblo generates as much or more clean energy for the power grid than it uses in campus buildings.

The energy offset is possible with a new feature on the north side of the Pueblo campus – a 7.8-megawatt solar array that covers the equivalent of roughly 23 football fields.

The array does not directly power campus; instead, the facility supplies the power grid, from which campus draws electricity. The sweeping solar array and a relatively small campus – with 38 buildings covering 1.5 million square feet – allow CSU Pueblo to balance energy production and demand, achieving net-zero efficiency.

The solar farm began operating in October 2021. It was constructed as part of a long-term financing and operations agreement between CSU Pueblo and Johnson Controls. The array produces electricity for the power grid maintained by regional provider Black Hills Energy, which, in turn, supplies energy to campus.

“The project was designed to produce enough electricity from a renewable resource to power our entire academic enterprise,” said Donna Souder Hodge, vice president for operations and advancement, who leads the solar project. “It’s living proof of progress and change at CSU Pueblo, and that’s a good thing. Higher education is meant to be a change agent.”

The concept gained traction in part for its financial benefits, she said. The solar project allows CSU Pueblo to hold annual increases in energy costs at an estimated 3 percent, compared to costs the university expected to increase by as much as 15 percent per year. These cost savings help the university hold tuition in check for students, Souder Hodge said.

The clean energy project also meets campus sustainability goals, which are part of CSU Pueblo’s 10-year strategic plan, known as Vision 2028.

“This is a good thing for our students, at the core of it,” Souder Hodge said. “It maps back to our values and our vision of becoming the people’s university of the Southwest.”

Photo at top: Donna Souder Hodge leads the CSU Pueblo solar project. Photo: May Neiberg.