As Tuition Climbs, University to Spend Thousands on “Solar Umbrellas”

December 2, 2013
UCCS plans to spend some $40,000 to purchase "solar umbrellas" like the one pictured here

UCCS plans to spend some $40,000 to purchase “solar umbrellas” like the one pictured here

DENVER – A move by the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS) to spend thousands of dollars on solar umbrellas is raising eyebrows.  As Caleb Bonham of Campus Reform explains, the student government there plans to use student fee money to purchase four solar-powered “umbrellas” to allow students to charge cell phones, laptops, and tablets – at cost of nearly ten grand each.

Student government senator Matthew Driftmier originally proposed the purchase, according to Campus Reform.

Green energy backers often tout solar projects like the umbrellas as effective ways to lower energy consumption levels and save money.  But Driftmier admits that tangible cost and energy savings are tough to pin down.

“There aren’t really hard statistics about how much energy is saved because it’s dependent on how much use they get, how much people are actually going to use them… the energy saved will be more negligible,” Driftmier recently told the campus newspaper, The Scribe.

“The real impact we’re looking to get out of these tables is more awareness,” Driftmier added.

The purchase will come out of the UCCS Green Action Fund, described as “the only committee or fee that students pay where students actually have a voice in how that money is used on a regular basis.”

But students don’t have much of a choice when it comes to paying the “$5 mandatory ‘Solar Fee’” that underwrites the fund.

That $5 may not seem like much.  But after the Board of Regents voted to raise UCCS tuition by 6 percent earlier this year, many students and parents are no doubt looking more closely at all of the “fees” tacked on to their rising tuition bills each year.

According to The Scribe each table will cost $9,795 – and while the student government voted to support the purchases, the committee is still “[debating]” a fourth table.

At another college campus, one student justified the purchase, explaining, “this provides a great opportunity for everyone to get to be outside more and see each other.”

A Mt. Hood student said the tables would “[spark] conversations.”

But blowing some $40,000 in public money on “awareness” that doesn’t achieve savings or reduce energy use isn’t sitting well with everyone.

Tyler Whittemore, a UCCS senior, didn’t exactly offer a ringing endorsement of the idea when he spoke to Campus Reform.

“Forty-one thousand dollars for four picnic tables – that go out of commission in the winter – hardly seems worth the negligible energy savings and proposed sustainability awareness,” Whittemore said.


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One Response to As Tuition Climbs, University to Spend Thousands on “Solar Umbrellas”

  1. Brian McFarlane
    December 3, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Certainly should or does bring “awareness” to the cost of solar and what savings will be realized … cost $40000 and NO known savings = $40000 for ? In my experience, solar is very inefficient and costly.

    This summer I bought some lights for the yard for about $40 (3 kind of flood lights) it came with a solar panel that is about a square foot in size, with a battery in it (to replace is about $16) that gets charged during the day to power the lights at night. IF the solar panel is in direct sunlight for at least 10-12 hours it will keep these lights going until around 1am during the summer (about 5 hours)… without direct sunlight hitting I am lucky to get more than 1-2 hours of lights. It is way less efficient than I imagined, at least it didn’t cost too much. I’m thinking on a larger scale it would be you would need a ridiculously large panel and the battery? I can’t even imagine the cost and size needed. I am very disappointed in that I want light as much or more at 3-5am than I do at say 10pm. And now during winter I get 1-2 hours of light before they run out … almost worthless.


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