Harnessing the sun

Pikes’ installations of solar panels at their chapter house is just the latest way they’re working to make their community — and planet — a better place.

Indiana State’s Pi Kappa Alpha chapter already takes going green to a whole new level with their solar panel system, but the organization’s sustainability efforts don’t stop there. The fraternity is also conserving water — and money.

Funded 100 percent by a Pike alumnus, the initial 75 panels were installed in about two weeks last fall and power all of the fraternity house’s outdoor lighting and a large part of the Education Center.

Josh Michael, ’05, GR ’08

“The housing board is always looking to improve the undergrads’ experience and reduce costs for them to be involved in this organization. Anything we can do to reduce living expenses in our facility is a benefit to the students,” said Josh Michael, ’05, GR ’08, who has been a member of Pike’s housing board since the beginning of the $2.3 million fraternity housing project. “We discussed green energy throughout the initial stages of planning, but there was no reason to include it in our initial funding drive.”

The law meant Hoosiers who paid to install solar energy equipment on their property after Dec. 31, 2017, would receive significantly less money in return for the unused energy sold back to the electric company. In order to be grandfathered into the program, the fraternity set up an interconnection agreement with Duke Energy before the deadline and had two meters connected into the current net metering with Duke for 30 years.

State alumnus Phillip Roberts, owner of One Planet Solar and Wind Inc. in Terre Haute, was asked to draft several system designs, and the housing board chose the one they felt best fit their needs. Roberts’ brother and fellow Sycamore Matt Roberts was an active member of Pi Kappa Alpha during his undergraduate years and now runs the company’s New Orleans area operations.

Over the course of 30 years, the solar panel system is expected to generate $243,270 in savings, but the planet also comes out a winner. The solar panels will annually prevent an estimated 32,067 pounds of coal from being burned, save more than 20,000 gallons of water and prevent the release of 56,589 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (which, over 30 years, is equivalent to 1,697,671 miles driven in a vehicle).

“When the Educational Center was remodeled, we installed motion-sensor lighting throughout the house to help conserve energy,” Michael said. “Three underground cisterns were also installed to collect rainwater from the roof so it wasn’t running back into the city’s storm water sewer system.”

Phase II of the project, which will include doubling the fraternity’s undergraduate housing and continuing the solar panel installation, is slated to start by 2020.

“The environmental offsets are a fringe benefit. It’s astonishing what a system like this can do for Mother Nature,” Roberts said. “The Pike House was already addressing energy management through energy efficiency, the boiler system, LED lighting and HVAC systems. That’s critical and will continue into Phase II of the project.”

When the fraternity started looking at the solar panel project, the plan was to install 60 panels on the west-facing roof, but wag bolts and the weight of the panels won’t allow for the structure to hold the panels. In the future, it is possible to bring in engineers to design a beam that could be placed at the top of the roof to support the panels.

“I believe it is an excellent step towards a sustainable chapter house. That sustainability applies to both the planet and the fraternity. The solar panels allow us to supply over half of the house with electricity, with surplus energy being passed back to the grid,” said Andrew Case, the chapter’s vice president of administrative affairs. “The Theta Omicron Chapter places a great deal of importance on helping to make our community a better place in any way we can. We are fortunate to have a great deal of alumni support that has allowed us to make these changes not only to benefit the Terre Haute community, but the planet as a whole.”

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