(WRCB) -- With Christmas far behind us, something else is "up on the rooftop." Southern Adventist University is on its way to becoming more energy neutral.  The campus is installing 806 solar panels on the Plant Services warehouse to help provide power.

The panels will provide approximately 200 kilowatts of power. That's enough energy to fully power the campus grocery store, which Dave Allemand, Assoc. Director of Energy Management, states is comparable to Greenlife Grocery. When complete, the array will be the second largest in the Chattanooga area, behind the Chattanooga airport's one million kilowatt system.

The idea for the project came last year when students from the campus's chapter of Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) meet with the university's board to talk about ways the campus could be more environmentally friendly and less dependent on traditional energy.

"The board of trustees approved it in concept," said Gordon Bietz, university president, "if we could get a good return on investment."

"We thought of several options," said Karla Coupland, one of SIFE's student leaders. "Other ideas wouldn't work or weren't as efficient and wanting to keep the natural beauty of the campus all led to solar; it would also give us the best returns with TVA and EPB."

The university partnered with Metro Services, a Chattanooga-based energy solutions company, before Thanksgiving and university officials say project status has moved along nicely.

According to Marty Hamilton, Assoc. VP of Financial Administration, the way the campus's power grid is designed, they can route power in any direction they want. This will allow the solar power to be pumped into the main grid and provide approximately three percent of the university's total power consumption.

Although the project costs $850,000, Hamilton says it will pay for itself soon enough:

"These panels are good for 30 years and we're looking at a $115,000-year payback; a total payback in seven years."

Coupland hopes this is not only the beginning of a long-term move to green initiatives for the university but also students themselves:

"In addition to this, we want to start a campaign to make students more aware of power consumption and costs. When they're here they pay a flat fee and may not realize how much it will cost when they get out; so we want to help ease that transition as much as possible."