After many changes, a long-awaited project is expected to break ground at The University of New Mexico. Through a joint effort between the Associated Students of UNM (ASUNM) and UNM’s Facilities Management (FM), solar panels will soon be placed atop Zimmerman Library.  

Over the past year, members of ASUNM and FM Utilities Division have been working non-stop to add more solar panels to campus. Solar panels, originally planned for placement on the roof of the Student Union Building, have found a new home atop Zimmerman Library. Through a joint financial effort between ASUNM and FM, the $400,000 project was approved this past March.

ASUNM first initiated the project in early 2019. After the ASUNM Senate passed a resolution in 2017 endorsing a more sustainable campus, the former administration of President Becka Myers and Vice President Emily Wilkes spearheaded an effort to bring more solar panels on campus.

“We conducted an all student survey, and solar panels and sustainability was the most suggested topic,” explains former ASUNM President Myers. “We consulted student organizations and academic units, and thought that solar panels could support the academic research mission, as well as making UNM more sustainable.”

With the students’ wants and needs in mind, ASUNM decided that during the 2019 Legislative Session, they would request capital outlay funding to place a photovoltaic array atop of the Student Union Building. ASUNM was successful in obtaining $250,000 in capital outlay funding from the New Mexico State Legislature. FM Utilities Division allocated an extra $150,000 to fully fund the project.

However, after receiving funding, this project was immediately faced with many obstacles. FM and ASUNM quickly found out that the SUB Roof had severe damage and it would not be stable for new construction. Because of this, the team had to find a new location for the placement of the solar panels. However, one of the priorities of ASUNM’s solar panel initiative was to place the solar panels on a building that is used by every student population.

“ASUNM Governmental Affairs showed great perseverance and initiative in obtaining the legislative funding for the solar installation. Their plan to use renewable energy on a building that serves the student population matches well with UNM’s long term goal to increase the use of renewables, building energy avoidance, and energy reduction in our utility system to move our university closer to carbon neutrality” explains Mary Clark, manager, Office of Sustainability.

With this in mind, the next logical location was Zimmerman Library—a building that is designed for all majors and student populations. However, this location brought its own obstacles. Zimmerman Library is a historic building and protected by both the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division and the Regents Historic Preservation Committee.

Designed by renowned Santa Fe architect John Gaw Meem, Zimmerman Library was built in 1938 as a public works project created to combat the economic turmoil of the Great Depression. Over the years, Zimmerman Library has been a catalyst in research and social change to the campus. To accommodate the growing student body, Zimmerman Library was expanded in the 1960s and then again in the early 1990s.

Because of its immense history, any changes made to the building must go before both the New Mexico Historic Preservation and the Regents Historic Preservation Committee for approval. Historic Buildings typically have four treatment approaches—preservation, rehabilitation, restoration and reconstruction.

“A major concern for everyone, including the Historic Preservation Division, was that the installation would be seen from the ground, which would be less than ideal for such an iconic building on campus,” explains FM Utilities Project Manager Craig Barnard. “But our plans to keep the system below the building’s parapets, and given the height of the building, the system should not be visible to the passerby.”

FM Utilities Division, students, and other UNM departments worked diligently to choose a location for the photovoltaic array that not only meet the intended energy conservation efforts, but also maintained the visual integrity of the Architecture. Because the solar panels would not be seen from the ground level, the project was approved.

“This may be the only building in New Mexico designated as a Historic Building that has a photovoltaic system installed on its roof,” continues Barnard.  “The review committee was encouraged to see that older buildings can be modernized and become a part of a renewable portfolio and we’re not just limited to new construction for energy conservation projects.”

With the approvals from New Mexico Historic Preservation and the Regents Historic Preservation Committee, the project received its final approval from the New Mexico Higher Education Department officially giving the project the green light.

“I’m ecstatic that the solar panel project is finally underway. This is one small step for the university that can make monumental change, and I look forward to seeing our students continue to lobby for advancements to our campus that make it more sustainable for future lobos to enjoy,” said former ASUNM Vice President Wilkes.

With an estimated peak output of 429 kilowatts, the solar array is designed to cover the electric needs of Zimmerman Library. Any surplus energy will be used to meet the electric needs of the campus. Through this solar array, the University is expected to save approximately $25,000 per year and will reduce UNM’s carbon footprint by an equivalent of 15 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. This project will be the12th solar installation approved and installed since 2006. 

Due to the University’s limited operations, the solar array project is not considered essential and will likely be scheduled after the return of normal operations.