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Student-led plan to install solar panels on the Memorial Union Building comes to a halt

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Shawna Langer/ Graphics Editor

Plans to capture solar energy in the Memorial Union Building have stalled in light of structural difficulties, but the goal of being leaders in sustainable development shines on for the student group Farm the Sun with US and the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union.

Last spring, the student group Farm the Sun with US proposed their project to install a solar farm on the MUB to the USSU as an investment to reduce carbon emissions and electricity bills. The USSU funded the $1,600­-preliminary evaluation done by a structural engineer. It determined that the project would be more expensive and less productive in generating energy than originally expected.

Caroline Cottrell, general manager of the USSU, says that two assessments done by the students’ union and the U of S revealed that installing the solar panels would require significant changes to the MUB’s infrastructure because the roof “is just too steep.” The angle of the building is also reportedly not ideal for a solar farm. 

Cottrell says overcoming these obstacles would drastically raise the cost of installation from the $100,000 originally estimated. The solar farm was meant to reduce carbon emissions by 26 tonnes per year and save the USSU up to $5,400 per year in electricity costs, but the increase in price would reduce the potential returns.

“If students at the U of S are going to invest in solar panels and solar energy, we want to make sure that in addition to it being the right thing to do they get something back for it,” Cottrell said.

U of S alumnus Femi Yusuf was one of the 28 students in the Environment and Sustainability 401 course who began Farm the Sun with US two years ago and led the solar farm proposal to the USSU.

Instead of being disappointed with the outcome, Yusuf says that he is focussing on how the proposal functioned as an experiential-learning opportunity for students in the future. 

“I think there’s an opportunity for those students at the U of S who are passionate about sustainable development to really evaluate what the Farm the Sun group couldn’t achieve and how they can improve on that,” Yusuf said.

Having graduated with a degree in environment and society last spring, Yusuf understands that projects like Farm the Sun with US have high turnover rates as students finish their university education and move on in life. Currently, he is planning on using the project as a case study to create another proposal for the USSU to start a “student-led sustainability association.”

“You would have students know about sustainability from their freshmen year, not when they get to their fourth-year and are doing a class project,” Yusuf said.

Cottrell says that the USSU will continue exploring and supporting potential ways of sustainable development.

“We came at this from a philosophical point of view that moving as much as we can from fossil fuels to a more sustainable form of energy is something that the USSU is very interested in,” Cottrell said.

Autumn LaRose-Smith, USSU vice-president of student affairs, says that the USSU is planning to undergo a new sustainability audit. Since the last audit was in 2006, LaRose-Smith says that updated data would help identify future goals in sustainable development for the union.

“Once we have that information and are able to analyze it, we can definitely figure out a more targeted direction for where we’re able to make more of an impact,” LaRose-Smith said.

As the union takes stock of their investments in sustainability, LaRose-Smith says that the USSU supporting projects like installing solar panels has impacts beyond the U of S campus by inspiring student organizations across Canada.

“We are recognized as national leaders by other student unions with our initiatives,” LaRose-Smith said. “Other student unions are wanting to model what we’re doing and bring it back to their universities as well.”

Noah Callaghan/ Staff Writer

Graphic: Shawna Langer/ Graphics Editor

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