NCRE site plan

The current site plan for the North Campus Residential Expansion.

Cornell University is hoping to use the roofs of the proposed North Campus Residential Expansion as solar panels, a plan the school announced Wednesday would generate enough energy to offset the new project’s electricity use by 35 percent.

This would create one megawatt of electricity annually and further reduce Cornell’s carbon footprint, according to Rick Burgess, vice president for facilities and campus services.

“Cornell has a goal for the Ithaca campus to become carbon neutral using 100% renewable energy by 2035,” Burgess said. “In line with this commitment, and encouraged by campus and community input, we are seeking to increase the amount of renewable energy that will be used in the proposed project. We are aiming to make a great project even better.”

For now, the NCRE project is currently undergoing several municipal permits and approvals. Cornell is hoping to pursue a solar energy grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) as well as seek out federal funding needed to offset the solar panel’s cost. The NCRE expansion is being made to fill a housing deficit but this will allow the university to house all freshman and sophomore students on campus or in affiliated housing.

The first phase is slated to open during the fall of 2021, which will accommodate 800 sophomores. The second phase will follow in the fall 2022 semester, which will accommodate 1,200 first-year students. The new development was designed to align with the Cornell Climate Action Plan, which is guiding the university on reducing energy and using renewable resources, said Paul Stemkoski, project manager in Facilities and Campus Services. Previously the project was ill-received by Ithaca residents who felt the use of natural gas to heat the buildings was misguided and damaging. At virtually any meeting with NCRE on the agenda, a contingent of local environmental activists would be in the audience to voice their displeasure and encourage Cornell to find alternative ways to power the buildings.

The building’s energy will now be delivered through central systems designed to accommodate further renewable of low-carbon sources such as Earth Source Heat.

The building policy for Cornell states that new projects must meet the standards for LEED Silver certification. Using the current designs, the NCRE can achieve LEED Gold certification and will use 30% less energy than is required by the latest New York State Energy Code, according to Sarah Zemanick, director of the Campus Sustainability Office. 180,000 square feet, four acres, of rooftop space is available for the panels. The energy from the solar panels would generate enough electricity usage to power 155 homes according to calculations by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Cornell has had a long-term lease with Solar Farms New York to complete the Cascadilla Community Solar Farm, a 125-acre, 18-megawatt solar farm near Game Farm Road, at Cornell University. Upon the approval of the NCRE’s municipal permits and approvals, the campuses solar energy capacity would grow to generate 30 megawatts of electricity, annually.

Completed Cornell solar projects include:

  • Snyder Road, Lansing, New York, 1.76 megawatts (2014)

  • Rooftop solar on the Ithaca campus, 0.09 megawatts (2015)
  • Geneva, New York, 2 megawatts (2015)

  • Harford, New York, 2 megawatts (2016)

  • Musgrave West and Musgrave East, Aurora, New York, 4 megawatts (2016)


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