Butte College, in California, Wins National Wildlife Foundation Sustainability Contest

solar panels
This solar array provides about a third of the energy used by Butte College. The college plans to go off the grid. (Photo courtesy Butte College)

Butte College won top honors in this year’s Chill Out contest. The contest, which is sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation, hands out prizes to institutions that cut carbon emissions.

Butte College, a community college located in northern California, took the grand prize for a range of sustainability programs on campus. Most notable, perhaps, is the college’s commitment to becoming carbon neutral, with no purchase of offsets, by 2015.

The college already generates almost one megawatt, or about 30 percent of its power, through a large solar array, which cost about $7-million in 2005. (Part of that cost was covered by the state of California.) Within the next couple of years, the college plans to start putting up enough solar panels to essentially take the college off the grid.

“We get so much sun here,” said Diana Van Der Ploeg, the college’s president. “One advantage of solar is that we are looking at using it as a shade source over sidewalks or parking lots.” The college is located on 928 acres of preserved land, so there is no shortage of places to put another large array.

The college runs one of the largest bus systems among colleges in California, which takes 1,000 cars off the road every day. Butte’s other green initiatives — an organic farm, a recycling program, a policy to certify new buildings in the LEED program — helped contribute to its win.

The National Wildlife Federation’s contest honored other colleges in various subcategories:

— Cascadia Community College and the University of Washington at Bothell won an award for habitat restoration, waste reduction, and educational awareness for restored wetlands on campus.

—The University of Missouri at Columbia won in the energy-efficiency category for limiting energy use and carbon emissions while expanding the campus.

—The University of Montana at Missoula won in the transportation category for its student-run bus system

Berea College and Daemen College for videos the colleges produced highlighting their sustainability efforts.

Documentary films about the winning colleges will air on April 16 at 7 pm, live from George Washington University. Go to the contest Web page to sign up for a Webcast. —Scott Carlson

Butte College is located on a 928-acre nature preserve. (Photo courtesy Butte College)

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