Student-led ASUREI unveils largest project expenditure


Evan Bates

ASU REI’s solar panels, just up the hill from the State Farm Lot.

Georgia Dixon, Reporter

Off of State Farm Lot, the place where freshmen typically park, to the right lies a small road which veers off to the left and houses a few little buildings including the data center, home to Appalachian State University Renewable Energy Initiative’s largest project expenditure to date.

 Joey Crews, a senior sustainable technology major and president of the student-run club, immediately recalled the location of the new project, formally titled the State Farm Solar Array. He said the project has been ongoing since 2017.

The website, Energy Education says “a photovoltaic (PV) system is composed of one or more solar panels combined with an inverter and other electrical and mechanical hardware that use energy from the Sun to generate electricity.”

The State Farm photovoltaic arrays’ energy output, Crews said, is comparable to the Broyhill Wind Turbine completed in 2009. Currently, both projects produce similar high amounts of renewable energy. 

Crews said the initiative does not end their sustainability efforts with the addition of new PV array systems, the goal is to decrease overall energy consumption. 

“You can’t just have fields and fields of solar on every roof and expect and expect everything to survive,” Crews said. “You have to be introspective and look at how much energy you’re using.”

Since the initiative began their focus on energy efficiency projects and additions to campus, Crews said “we’ve gone from around 2% of the university energy being supplied by renewable energy to around 21%.” 

“It is not all about renewable energy; it is about conservation, energy efficiency, student engagement, making sure students are informed,” Crews said. 

Jackson Lamb, vice president of the club and a senior cell and molecular biology major, said the total cost of the project at its completion totaled approximately half a million dollars, making the project the most expensive sustainability effort in App State history.

“COVID slowed down the process a lot,” Lamb said. “Whenever you are doing stuff on campus, there is a lot of red tape, a ton of red tape.”

He said projects surpassing over $300,000 are mandated to go through a bidding process through the Town of Boone, which opens up the project to local solar and construction companies to work on the project. 

“There are just a lot of things to work through, and that is why it was a four year process,” Lamb said.  

The project received funding from a fee, included in every student’s tuition “which only amounts to a small fraction of every student’s tuition,” Lamb said. “Half a million plus was student money that we get that we saved up, and then we funded this project all on our own.” 

The initiative may spend their budget as needed, as long as the initiative’s spending aligns with their mission statement and is university approved, Lamb said. 

According to the Renewable Energy Initiative website, their mission statement is to  “reduce the environmental impact of Appalachian State University by implementing renewable energy technologies, investing in energy efficiency projects, and promoting campus engagement.” 

Each of the club’s projects aims to reduce the university’s total unrenewable energy usage with every new energy efficiency project implemented, Lamb said. 

In order to declare a PV project sustainable, steps to increase the affiliated buildings’ energy efficiency, like adding pipe insulation or LED upgrades and window tinting is necessary, Lamb said. 

“Only then solar is really beneficial to a building, because that kind of puts it over the edge and makes it kind of like a closed loop,” Lamb said. “A self-fulfilling building.”  

Jonathan Pierson, App State’s energy manager and an adviser to the initiative, describes his work as a precursor to the initiative’s sustainability projects, like PV Solar Arrays’.    

“My main focus is trying to make the campus more efficient, focused on ways to cut costs and emissions of existing buildings,” Pierson said. 

Hannah Armstrong, the club’s marketing manager and a junior cell and molecular biology major, said the club’s overarching mission, in addition to increasing renewable energy usage, is to help reduce the carbon footprint of the university. 

She said the array will greatly reduce the universities’ net energy usage and move the university a “big step” toward carbon neutrality. 

Ultimately the goal is to utilize less energy as a whole renewable or nonrenewable Armstrong said. 

Jim Dees, App State’s data and assessment specialist with the Office of Sustainability focuses on transferring sustainability data to sustainability enterprises. Dees currently serves as a staff adviser for ASU REI and has for about 10 years, he describes his  involvement as more like a facilitator. 

“I am not too much on the technical side,” Dees said. “I help students actually implement the project ideas they come up with.” 

Dees said concept to implementation of students’ is his primary focus, which he said involves listening to students, then using his expertise to contact respective offices such as design and construction, often in tandem with club officials. 

He said he contacts the offices often through email and asks questions like “hey, we would like to do X,” and frequently the response will be along the lines of “we are going to reroof that building in about four years, so it doesn’t make sense to put a PV system on top of a roof that you are going to have to move out of the way,” Dees said. 

Dees noted that oftentimes students’ ideas such as covering every roof with a PV, are often “good in theory,” yet “the practicality of that isn’t quite as easy as it sounds.”

His responsibility, Dees said, is to help students navigate the idea implementation process through educating members of the club on who to inquire with their questions about specific components of the project implementation process and through which communication mechanism.  

So well, we have kind of that institutional knowledge of,  you have to check with the dean of students to do that,” Dees said. And here’s how you should ask them, we kind of help with the subtleties of that.”

While REI is a part of Dees job title, the position itself is exclusively a volunteer adviser position. Dees said he works as a liaison rather than a spokesperson between faculty and the students.

“The cool thing is, I cannot speak for REI, I cannot advocate for them and lobby for them,” Dees said. “But I will gladly go ask them and I will go present it to them, and say ‘hey, this is an opportunity that ran into me…any interest in supporting, X, Y or Z project?’”

Lamb said the club embraces new student involvement.  Anyone, despite their major, interested in participating in the club, is welcome to come to a general meeting. More information is on the club website