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TSTC, Green Mountain Turn On Solar Energy Project
[Friday, September 04, 2009]

State Rep. Tara Rios Ybarra, Board of Regent Nora Castañeda, Mayor Chris Boswell, College President Dr. Cesar Maldonado, City Commissioner Larry Galbreath and State Rep. Eddie Lucio III helped celebrate solar power coming to TSTC.  A shiny new solar array at Texas State Technical College Harlingen will empower future graduates in modern careers thanks to a donation from Green Mountain Energy Company.

Professor Dr. Sarah Merrill, who submitted the grant application to Green Mountain, pulled the switch that enabled electricity gathered by an 861-square-foot solar array to supply up about 13,000 kilowatt hours per year to the college’s Autobody Collision Technology Building. With “Let the Sunshine In” by The Fifth Dimension as a musical theme, the 60 large photovoltaic solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity became the focus of studies and research at TSTC.

“Green Mountain does a great job with public education about clean, pollution-free energy and it works with its customers to lower their electric costs,” Dr. Merrill said. “Some of my students told me about this potential grant so I cannot take all the credit. It gives me a good feeling to know that I am doing what’s best for the environment when I pay my electric bill.”

College President Dr. Cesar Maldonado called her a “champion of the environment” and praised her for helping establish the partnership between TSTC and Green Mountain.

“Dr. Merrill, who teaches philosophy, serves as a role model for merging science and the arts,” he said. “She has helped generate power for TSTC to do new things. The leadership of Green Mountain in ‘the greening of America’ is invaluable. I sincerely thank the company for providing a foundation for our Solar Energy Technology Program and the future South Texas Institute for Renewable Energy.”

The $88,000 grant for TSTC should save the college approximately $300,000 on its electric bills over the next 30 years. Funding came from the Big Texas Sun Club, a voluntary group of Green Mountain customers who promote solar energy. The TSTC solar array located at the intersection of Loop 499 and Raintree Street will offset almost 27,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that is a leading cause of global warming. The project will have the same annual environmental impact of not driving a car for nearly 30,000 miles or planting more than 1,600 trees.

“This solar energy system should motivate the public to learn more about renewable energy,” said Vanessa Montelongo, a senior advisor for Green Mountain Energy.

“Interest is growing in the newest solar and wind energy technology. Residential and commercial customers should do research and contact their energy supplier for rebates that are lowering the cost of renewable energy sources. Energy audits and discounts often are available for customers who choose alternative energy.”

For more information online about Green Mountain Energy go to

TSTC Industrial-Manufacturing Division Director Adan Gutierrez said that Mechatronics Technology students already learn basic skills necessary to become wind and solar energy technicians. Technology programs throughout the TSTC System – which has campuses in Marshall, Waco, and West Texas – already are modifying curriculum and preparing students for careers in the wind and solar power fields.

SPI Go Green, which designs and installs energy systems, installed the solar energy equipment at TSTC. Company owner Gianluca Ferrario said that he worked on alternative energy in Europe before starting SPI Go Green in the Rio Grande Valley about a year ago. He expects steady growth in providing renewable energy for clients due to numerous state, federal and industry incentives, such as a discount he offers commercial customers on energy audits.

Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell designated September 4, 2009, as Green Mountain Energy Solar at TSTC Day. He urged the city’s citizens and businesses to learn more about green power and engage in practices that encourage the use of clean, renewable energy.

Dr. Maldonado announced that enrollment grew for fall semester 2009 in each of the Industrial-Manufacturing, Computer Information Systems and Allied Health divisions. He also said that enrollment in academic programs grew by more than 21 percent. For more information about TSTC online go to