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Solar array shines despite weather; 3,200 panels on North Campus are cited for layout, accessibility, energy savings

The sun skipped the ceremony, but the University at Buffalo celebrated its new solar array anyway as a blend of clean energy, artistic vision and cost savings.

The Solar Strand, installed on UB's North Campus just inside the Flint Road entrance, was on the job Monday while the dedication was forced indoors by blowing, wet snow under overcast skies.

"Even today, we're generating power," said Robert G. Shibley, dean and professor at UB's School of Architecture and Planning.

The 750-kilowatt system consists of about 3,200 photovoltaic panels, extending in three rows for a quarter of a mile. The project was funded with $7.5 million from the State Power Authority.

Supporters say the Solar Strand stands out for its layout and accessibility. Acclaimed architect Walter Hood designed the array in the pattern of a DNA fingerprint. And the public can roam through it.

"There is no chain-link fence surrounding this," Shibley said. The array's tallest groupings of panels will create three "social rooms" for people to gather in.

Hood thanked the project's backers, saying their trust and funding allowed an artistic vision to become reality on campus.

"That means you have to be very optimistic and you have to have faith in an idea, not something that you know," Hood said. "And that is something that Americans, I think, we're getting better at, being optimistic again, being able to go into the future and not know what we're going to get."

The Solar Strand is projected to save at least $60,000 a year in energy costs; the savings could go higher based on the cost of energy, Shibley said. Power generated by the array feeds into a grid, so it does not go to any single use.

UB President Satish K. Tripathi said the solar array fits with the university's "green" initiatives.

"It is about building a brighter future for all of our communities, locally as well as globally. Truly, this is a sustainable vision, one that will be an ever-expanding source of power and energy for generations to come," he said.

While project participants threw ceremonial switches to activate the array, more work is yet to come. Next Tuesday, UB students will plant shrubbery, spread concrete and rake the site. Walkways winding through the panels are expected to open in August.

DeCloet Greenhouse Manufacturing of Simcoe, Ont., was lead contractor. About 40 Western New York companies were involved, including Solar Liberty, Community Steel, Ed Strickland Welding and Fabricating, and Hausrath's Landscaping Maintenance.

"These companies with local employees, employing hundreds of local residents, contributed to the successful realization of this visually striking and energy-saving project," said Paul W. Belnick, vice president of energy services for the Power Authority, with 84 percent of the project's value delivered through Western New York firms, and about 19 percent through women-owned businesses.

email: mglynn@buffnews.com