Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy joined representatives from MIddlebury College on Tuesday to break ground on a new solar project.

The five megawatt project will provide the college with 30% of its electricity and bring Middlebury closer to its goal of powering the entire campus with renewable energy.

The 29,000 solar panels will be arrayed on 30 acres of land a couple miles form campus. College President Laurie Patton said you have to start small to make a big change. 

“A local initiative such as this is exactly the point,” Patton said. “The point being that local wisdom and local practices are ideal conditions to help us put out the fire that is consuming our planet.” 

Leahy thanked Middlebury students, saying the project wouldn’t be possible without them. 

“For many years, along with other Vermont leaders, I have been spotlighting the economic benefits to come with going ‘all-in’ on investments in clean energy and green infrastructure,” said Senator Leahy. “As we grapple with the consequences of the climate crisis, it is clear these are not just economic benefits. It is also an economic imperative. I am so proud to see that urgency being demonstrated so clearly right here in Middlebury.”

Simone Ameer is a senior majoring in conservation biology, with a focus on how solar panels can address the climate crisis. “Solar panels are so unique because obviously they provide an incredible physical aid to climate solutions,” Ameer said. “They may not be physically gorgeous, but the feeling of connectedness they evoke and the power of the work they do is beautiful.”

The project was made possible with the help from Encore Renewable Energy and Green Mountain Power. 

“So on expensive high demand and use days in the state, we will be able to deploy that stored energy back onto the greater grid and this will save all of our customers money,” Mari McClure, President and CEO of Green Mountain Power, said. 

 Construction of the array is expected to be finished in 2022.