Occidental College is one of the oldest liberal arts colleges on the West Coast. President Obama attended this college from 1979 to 1981. Since 2009 this prestigious college has trusted Andre to care for their valuable sentinels, care for and renovate faculty homes, including the President, and to perform specialized landscape projects on their campus. In 2012 Oxy began work on a $6.8 million, 1- megawatt ground-mounted solar array thought to be one of the largest of its kind in Los Angeles.
Oxy’s board initially objected to the aesthetics of the project. Losing beautiful open space to monstrous glaring objects didn’t seem like a compelling move for the college. Professors and students began to brainstorm and came up with design ideas–thinking of the hillside as a canvas and using its natural topography rather than imposing some rectangular, flat foreign object upon it.
The lengthy process of bringing the project to fruition combined a creative approach which involved art faculty collaborating with the community and with a local design firm to create a curving design, with 4, 886 panels mounted 2-3 feet above the ground, with the low-profile array hugging the natural hillside topography, contributing aesthetically to the greater environment.
Oxy partnered with Andre to hydro-seed the hillside with a native mix to create soft, flowing color as a backdrop on the hillside. We discovered a few potential problems in the pre-construction meetings which needed correction. The first was the irrigation system, which was spec’d for a rotor system (which is normally chosen to irrigate slopes) but in this case would deposit salt and minerals onto the low-profile panels, lessening their effectiveness.
We created a root zone irrigation design which would not impede the panels effectiveness. Secondly, within the traditional native hydro-seed mix there were seed varieties that would be too tall for the low profile panels and would also impede solar uptake. We created a custom native mix that would grow 24” inches in height at full growth (under solar panel height) – and even altered the seed mix to have orange California poppies dominate, which in full bloom–would display Oxy’s school colors.
Oxy’s Solar Array generates approximately 12 % of the college’s annual electrical usage, saves an estimated $250,000 a year and removes carbon dioxide equivalent to removing 250 automobiles from the road. It’s thoughtful design merges art and science and is a visible symbol of a commitment to a sustainability and clean energy agenda and the mindful integration of such an agenda within the greater environment. – It’s a win-win project and we appreciate being a part of these types of projects that benefit our planet and people.