Loyola’s Double Black Diamond Solar Farm Project to Go Live by 2025

Loyola’s electricity needs will be 100% sourced from a solar farm in Central Illinois by 2025.

All of Loyola’s electricity will be sourced through a solar farm in Central Illinois beginning Jan. 1, 2025 in accordance with their ten-year Climate Action Plan and goal towards carbon neutrality.

The project, Double Black Diamond, is being developed by Swift Current Energy and will be the largest solar farm in Illinois, according to an April 19 press release from the university. This solar farm will power electricity on all of Loyola’s Illinois campuses — the Lake Shore, Water Tower, Health Sciences and Loyola University Retreat and Ecology campuses. 

The transition to solar energy will be a stepping stone in the university’s goal of becoming carbon neutral as set in their 2015-2025 Climate Action Plan. While Double Black Diamond will make Loyola’s energy use carbon neutral, the university is still working to become entirely carbon neutral with its consumption of gas, heating, cooling and other factors, according to the press release. 

The John Felice Rome Center is already green-energy sourced, according to Loyola’s Director of Sustainability Aaron Durnbaugh.

“Rome actually has an electricity contract making them 100% renewable already,” Durnbaugh said. “I did a sustainability report for them this summer and had them send me all their electricity bills, all their gas, water bills and that kind of stuff and they signed up for a tariff which is 100% clean energy.”

Second-year Hussain Mohammed said the Rome Center’s location in Europe may be a contributor to its advancements in sustainability.

“If you go to different countries in Europe, I think they have a lot of sustainability efforts, and it goes to show how important other countries think of it,” Mohammed said

The Rome Center has implemented sustainability efforts such as putting solar panels on the roofs of each building in the campus, rainwater harvesting to use for watering the grounds and a photovoltaic plant for generating hot water, according to the Rome Campus’s website

Loyola previously claimed its sustainable energy through the purchase of renewable energy credits, or RECs, from clean energy sources. These credits allow purchasers to take ownership over environmental benefits of renewable energy while providing finances to clean energy developers. Durbaugh said the university could utilize better sustainability options than RECs. 

“When you start to look at these renewable energy credits, you don’t end up actually making renewable energy get built,” Durnbaugh said. “We knew something better was out there and that’s why we started this process back in 2019.” 

Vice president of Facilities Kana Henning announced the Double Black Diamond deal to faculty members on April 22 — Earth Day. 

Henning said the university will save money through this deal by not purchasing energy offsets with RECs. 

“With this renewable energy contract, we will also own the RECs outright,” Henning said. “We will no longer have to purchase RECs as standalone credits to be able to make green energy claims. We will be able to make those claims through the purchase of our own green energy.”

Loyola set their Climate Action Plan into focus in 2015, which lays out the university’s goals to reach carbon neutrality by 2025, according to the Climate Action Plan. As Jan. 1, 2025 approaches, Nancy Tuchman, the founding dean of the School of Environmental Sustainability, said a new action plan will be developed. 

“Once we reach our goal of carbon neutrality by 2025, then we’ll put a new carbon action plan into play that has a goal of zero waste on campus,” Tuchman said. “It’s really complicated to achieve, but it’s doable if we get people to cooperate.”

Gentile Arena has been implementing zero-waste sports games since 2019, where all food and beverages are served in a recyclable container, including water, according to Loyola’s website

The School of Environmental Sustainability also expanded their compost bucket initiative to the Water Tower Campus, allowing students living downtown to pick up a bucket to reduce food waste and drop it off without traveling to Lake Shore Campus, according to the university’s website

Environmental science major Abbey Haynes said she hopes to see more sustainability efforts with the university shuttle system and expanding the compost program. Specifically, the fourth-year said she hopes to see electric vehicles used by the university and more awareness towards the composting program across campus.

“I would also really just love to see more diverse faculty being hired in the school in general and also the SES,” Haynes said. “That would give kids more range of people to learn from.”

Loyola officials negotiated a contract which will open up more opportunities for student engagement in researching clean energy, according to Durnbaugh. Students will be able to visit the solar farm for research purposes, and workers from the solar farm will have the opportunity to give presentations to Loyola students. 

“Their staff will come in and do guest lectures and we can actually go down to the solar farm and visit it,” Durnbaugh said. “We negotiated an agreement so we can do things that really connect into the educational part at Loyola.” 

Haynes said she’s excited for this resource and for more learning opportunities regarding energy use. 

“I love any hands-on field trips, so it’s really great to hear about this,” Haynes said. “It’s also a really good opportunity for students to be exposed to different career opportunities, especially in this growing field.” 

Henning said the students are ahead of the faculty in terms of sustainable efforts. 

“Our students are already years beyond us in terms of it being a priority, and I’m happy to see that over the years the faculty, staff and administration has really stepped up to the plate to lend a voice to this effort alongside students,” Henning said. 

Loyola was recently awarded the first U.S. Laudato Si’ Champions award July 27 in the university category by the Catholic Climate Covenant, The Phoenix previously reported. The award is given to Catholic organizations or individuals who have made an impact in their community for protecting the environment. 

“It’s so helpful to have our mission aligned with the universal apostolic preferences of the Society of Jesus and of Pope Francis,” Tuchman said. “When we make an argument to take a big step, we can say it’s advancing what the Pope is calling us into action to do.” 

Third-year Kate Knowles said the campus dedication to sustainability drew her to change her major from political science to environmental science. 

“When I walked around campus for the first time, I saw what is now the School of Environmental Sustainability and I saw how much they were dedicating to that field and how ahead they were of other universities that I looked at,” Knowles said. “It definitely made me make that switch and change my major.” 

While still appreciating the Double Black Diamond project, Knowles said she has questions for the university about continuing sustainable practices at the solar farm. 

“It’s good to see that they’re committing to a plan for supplying all of our power off of solar, and there are questions that I would have for them about how the solar panels will be recycled when they wear down and little things like that,” Knowles said. “I do appreciate the effort that’s being made to go carbon neutral on campus.” 

Mohammed said he believes the project could provide an example for other universities.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Mohammed said. “I’m really excited to see this happen and I think it’s a good stepping stone for other schools to see what they can do.” 

Henning agreed with Mohammed, and said the project is a good way for Loyola to further its brand in sustainability. 

“That’s the right thing for us to do,” Henning said. “To continue to walk our talk of being sustainable, we knew that, being in a dense, urban campus, we would never be able to produce that amount of electricity in our campus. In order to be able to get that capacity that we needed for our usage, we needed to be looking to partner with a developer at an off-site location.”

Loyola will be building a new carbon action plan shortly after the Double Black Diamond project goes live in 2025, including ideas towards decarbonization and becoming a zero waste campus, according to Tuchman. 

This article was written by Jules Galway

Featured image by Holden Green / The Phoenix

Jules Galway

Jules Galway