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Colorado State University at Pueblo has reached a goal of net-zero operations through solar power, making them the first university in the state to meet the target. The accomplishment comes two years after a 2019 “green government executive order” by Colorado Governor Jared Polis. The success was reached through the installation of a 23-acre solar panel project involving a partnership with three utility companies in the area, including a 25-year power purchase agreement with Johnson Controls. CSU-Pueblo is on the northeast border of the city and has just under 4,000 undergraduate students.

Mottet (right), CSU-Pueblo President, speaks with Colorado Gov. Polis (left) in front of the new solar array // Photo courtesy of CSU-Pueblo

“Sustainability is one of our guiding principles,” Colorado State University at Pueblo President Timothy Mottet said in an interview with a local news channel, “it’s important to us, and this is how we’re walking the walk.” He gave the statement in front of a section of the brand new solar panels, as the unobstructed sun beat down around him.

The solar array project sprawls across 23 acres on the northern periphery of campus and is capable of producing excess energy — a power surplus that fuels not only the academic buildings on campus but surrounding non-university power demands, too. Additional energy not consumed by CSU-Pueblo is put back onto the grid, relieving the demand on local utility suppliers which in turn provide financial credits to the university. 

The benefits of the project are long-lasting, with projected cost savings spanning two decades, into the 2040s, according to a press release from CSU-Pueblo. By lowering operational costs of the university, the administration hopes to pass those savings to potential students, ensuring lower-cost access to higher education at public universities like CSU-Pueblo, says Mottet. “It’s about making college more affordable for them,” he told CBS 4 Denver. 

The solar array sits on the edge of CSU-Pueblo’s campus // Photo courtesy of CSU-Pueblo 

Colorado is one of many states across America that has outlined a plan for a transition to clean energy in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change. Currently, the state is “working to transition to 100 percent clean electricity generation by 2040 and rapidly expand the electrification of vehicles,” according to the Colorado Energy Office. 

While climate change remains a global issue, the energy office says Colorado is at particular risk, referring to the state as “very vulnerable,” adding that “climate challenges will affect everyone and require collaborative solutions involving state and local governments, industry across sectors, and communities.” 

Pueblo is a relatively small city just south of Colorado Springs in the center of the state and sits 100 miles south of Denver. The 110,000 person city is home to a longstanding trade history and is known for its steel production. While many may envisage a rocky, mountainous terrain with snow-capped peaks as the scene for a Colorado city, Pueblo’s landscape and climate fall more in line with that of its neighboring states: Kansas and New Mexico. Notably, Pueblo’s landscape is fairly flat, arid, and they experience strong, dry summer days that lend themselves well to the solar panel project launched this year. 

Evidently, CSU-Pueblo did not hesitate in leveraging their own impact on the state’s renewable goals. “This is our part in helping the state,” Mottet said

The groundbreaking endeavor caught the attention of the state capitol, too, as Governor Polis praised the project and its contribution to the renewable energy goals of Colorado. “One of my bold goals for Colorado is reaching 100% renewable energy by 2040, and it’s thanks to our institutions of higher ed like CSU-Pueblo, I’m confident we’ll get there,” he wrote

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