Last Friday, President Mills announced the College’s proposal to install a solar power complex spanning the roofs of Farley Field House and Watson Arena as well as three acres of the recently-acquired former Naval Air Station property. If the project obtains the necessary local, state and federal approvals, it will be the largest solar power installation in the state, with the potential to generate 1.6 million kilowatt-hours of power and offset Bowdoin’s annual electricity consumption by 8 percent.
The announcement made headlines in the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle and on the Huffington Post, highlighting Bowdoin’s efforts to remain at the forefront of renewable energy use. We applaud the plan’s movement toward institutional sustainability, taking steps beyond encouraging individuals to recycle or turn off the lights. But we should note that the project is still no more than a promising prospect—a preliminary step toward our ultimate carbon neutrality goals. The College must still jump through a number of regulatory hoops before ground will be broken at the Naval Air Station, and electricity prices have yet to be established. It will be a few years before the panels will become fully operational.
As Bowdoin seeks to benefit from the construction of Maine’s largest solar-panel facility, the state as a whole has missed an opportunity in another field of renewable energy. On Tuesday, the Norwegian company Statoil announced that it will not proceed with plans to build a $120 million wind farm on the coast. A spokesperson for the company attributed the decision partially to legislation signed by Governor LePage in June that reopened the bidding war for offshore wind power. LePage stated his opposition to the deal when it was announced last winter. According to the Portland Press Herald, the governor criticized the agreement because it offered Statoil an above-market rate for the electricity it would provide to the state. As a result, Maine loses a multi-million dollar investment in green energy and jobs as well as an opportunity to be a national leader in harvesting offshore wind power.
Like much of what is innovative, this wind power proposal was not a sure thing; there was no guarantee that it would have resulted in cheaper electricity rates, and it did carry some degree of risk. This does not justify LePage’s opposition. Bowdoin’s plan, too, is not without risk. While it is estimated that these solar panels will decrease our energy costs after 12 to 15 years, these predictions are not concrete. But because we are only seven years away from the College’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2020, these efforts are necessary and welcome. Bowdoin is paying it forward, not opting to safely maintain the status quo for the sake of short-term economic security, but making an investment that will pay out over the long term. Actions like the installation of the solar power farm will not eliminate our reliance on nonrenewable energy needs, but they are steps in the right direction. These are risks we should be taking.
The editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Claire Aasen, Erica Berry, Nora Biette-Timmons, Marisa McGarry, Eliza Novick-Smith, Sam Miller and Sam Weyrauch.