In a move to combat rising energy costs, the rooftop of the Recreation Center Expansion – which includes the popular MAC gym – has been outfitted with a battalion of 816 solar panels.

The Rec Cen is one of the most trafficked buildings on campus and receives as many as 5,000 patrons per day. With such frequent usage comes hefty electrical bills for the facility, which can climb as high as $80,000 per year. The solar panels, however, aim to cut the energy costs considerably – the system is capable of generating up to 105 percent of the power needs of the Rec Cen Expansion, or Rec Cen II.

Gary Jurich, Assistant Director of the Recreation Center, said the recently installed solar panels atop Rec Cen II will drastically cut the cost of powering the facility and stifle rising energy costs.

“We’re thinking it will cost us very close to zero.” Jurich said.

If the facility’s power needs are met, Jurich noted that excess power could be rerouted to other facilities on campus from the Rec Cen.

Although the $1.5 million price tag seems steep, Jurich said the panels’ ability to produce power for both the Rec Cen and other campus facilities could allow for the project to pay for itself within 10 to 12 years.

Since their activation at the end of 2008, the panels have produced roughly 54,160 Kilowatt-hours of electricity. Putting the figure in perspective, Jurich said that a typical Santa Barbara home consumes roughly 10,000 kWh of electricity annually.

According to Jurich, the project was born from discussions between Rec Cen officials, the Student Governance Board, the Office of Student Affairs, the Student Fee Advisory Committee and campus administrators.

“I thought, and so did [Vice Chancellor] Michael Young, that this would be an appropriate project not only to save money, but that this could be a beacon,” Jurich said. “Other departments and universities can look at us and say, ‘UCSB’s Rec Cen is on the forefront of putting their money where their mouth is and being sustainable’.”

In 2006, the university agreed to hold 25 of its pre-existing buildings to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards. The Rec Cen is now LEED Silver certified.

Jessica Casler, a third-year sociology major said she thinks the Rec Cen solar panels will play an integral role in the university’s energy-saving practices.

“I’ve heard talk about it being revolutionary, and how we’re the only campus that has it,” Casler said. “I think its cool that we have [the solar panels.]”

Reliance on solar power at UCSB does not stop with campus facilities. The Manley House – a local cooperative – has used solar panels for years, according to resident Devlin Seymour.

“We’re the only co-op with solar panels. I know it’s cut our utilities down by a good portion,” Seymour, a fourth-year business economics major, said.

Regarding the solar panels over Rec Cen II, Seymour said the university ought to move toward producing its own electricity.

“It’s a great move,” Seymour said. “If the university can provide its own power, it’s definitely worth it.”