Bratton dedication marks Whitman’s renewable energy efforts

Josh Goodman

A rainy day without a drop of sunlight in the sky didn’t detract from the dedication of the new solar panels atop the Bratton Tennis Center on Saturday.

The dedication, which featured a series of speakers involved in the process of making the solar panels a reality, celebrated the arrival of a renewable energy power plant to the Whitman campus and looked towards Whitman’s next steps for renewable energy. Although the solar panels, a pilot project, went live last month, the dedication was scheduled for Saturday to coincide with the reunion for the class of 1999, which made fundraising for the solar panels its class project.

“It takes a community to raise solar panels,” said senior Camila Thorndike, last year’s co-president of the Campus Climate Challenge, of the support received from the administration, alumni, students and parents and a grant from Pacific Power. “As freshmen they were only a vision; today I am proud to be a member of the first graduating class to have studied by the light they help provide.”

While solar power does not emit carbon emissions, it is also considerably more expensive than alternatives such as oil and coal. Despite the solar panel’s price tag of $250,000, it only powers about 20 percent of the Bratton Tennis Center, which previously had electricity bills of about $800 per month.

Still, despite the costs, those involved with the solar panels believe that building the photovoltaic array was the right thing to do.

“How long will it take the system to pay for itself?” asked one audience member.

“It won’t,” said Construction Project Manager Jeff Donahue. “I don’t think that’s the issue, it’s the responsibility that we should take to have sustainable energy.”

Expanding this start in sustainable energy was also a major theme.

“It’s a beginning in terms of our use of solar energy,” said President George Bridges. “This is part of a larger emphasis of Whitman College, just one piece of it, and we’ll continue to pursue more and more sustainable energy projects.”

Bridges suggested that wind power may be the college’s next renewable energy focus.

“Whitman owns farmland, and [there are] windmills on that land that produce wind power,” he said. “And so we’re talking with companies about building one of those, possibly being co-owners of a wind-power farm that would provide revenue to the college through the development and generation of wind power.”

That doesn’t mean that Whitman won’t continue its solar ambitions. Professor of Geology and Environmental Science Bob Carson is pushing for Whitman to be involved in a community solar project, a photovoltaic array benefiting several institutions.

“A new proposal [is] being developed by faculty and administrators at Walla Walla University [and] Walla Walla Community College,” he said. “I hope that Whitman joins these other colleges.”

Future prospects aside, Thorndike felt the dedication was reason a major milestone.

“I think it’s amazing that the group founded my freshman year has, by the time I leave Whitman, tangible carbon reductions,” she said. “I think it’s a huge accomplishment.”