$5 Million Solar Energy Grant Approved by Subcommittee

Photo by Julie Mansmann

Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-Hurley) announced the preliminary approval of a $5 million investment in solar energy research at SUNY New Paltz, which Interim President Donald Christian said is the largest Congressionally-directed grant in the college’s history.

During a press conference in the Student Union Wednesday, Hinchey said he has secured the approval of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee for the development of a test and characterization laboratory for solar energy research on campus. The Democrat, who is running for his 10th two-year term, is the senior member of the committee.

The lab will be staffed by engineering students and faculty, allowing members of the campus community to work with the Kingston-based nonprofit, The Solar Energy Consortium (TSEC).

The funding would also be used by the School of Business to develop a program that would allow them to work with local companies based in solar technology. Students and professors in the department would work in a program financed to facilitate the development of new competitiveness models and conceptualize methods for servicing the Department of Defense’s (DoD) solar needs.

Together, Hinchey said all groups involved can develop “cutting edge” technology for the DoD.

“I think this is going to make a great addition to the college,” Hinchey said. “Creating this technological facility will encourage growth. The more we can do to develop this, the more advancements we can make for the people of this planet.”

TSEC Vinny Cozzolino said the group has been working to upgrade the economy, and an extended  partnership with  the college would help them achieve their goals. He said work done at the new facility could create opportunities and jobs in the sector.

Cozzolino agreed with Hinchey, who said the DoD’s intention to adhere to a 50 percent “Made in America” requirement for all solar energy-related purchases would help advance the region’s energy companies. He said cooperation between the nonprofit and the college will help the business cycle in the field.

“This project will help companies continue to grow through technological, business innovation and analytical research support provided by the college community,” Cozzolino said.

Christian said the project will not only keep New York-based solar companies competitive globally, but will create new opportunities for students on campus.

The funding will allow the college to develop new initiatives “not otherwise possible,” Christian said. According to the interim president, the project will provide scholarly and outreach opportunities such as experience with the latest technologies in the field and the chance to work in multi-disciplinary teams.

“We are excited about this opportunity for students to apply what they learn,” he said.

The funding came after the New Paltz Solar Car Racing team was awarded a teamwork award in their first 1,100-mile American Solar Challenge in June. The team placed eighth out of 17 teams at the event, facing competitors from Germany, Taiwan, Canada and programs at the University of Michigan and Stanford University.

Fourth-year electrical engineering majors Kyle DeFalco, Ben Rounds and Patrick Cody said the announcement of the grant has brought a lot of buzz to an intimate department.

Rounds said visits from industry leaders to the facility and the chance to work in a modern lab could help SUNY New Paltz engineering students find jobs in an increasingly competitive, but trending field in the sciences.

“This would give us hands-on experience that would extend beyond the classroom,” Rounds said. “We would get to use the most modern equipment, and that would give us an edge over other students.

The defense bill to which the money is attached still needs to be approved by the House and Senate.  Christian said that a detailed budget plan for spending the grant has not yet been developed; no SUNY money will fund the project. Administrators have also yet to decide on the lab’s location.

When funding is ultimately secured, Hinchey said it can help bring the college to the forefront of the industry.

“We can be the best,” he said. “And the best can be here at SUNY New Paltz.”