Penn State, Lightsource BP break ground on largest solar project in Pennsylvania
IMAGE: RYAN SMITH PRODUCTIONS
On Sept. 6, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf joined Penn State President Eric J. Barron at the groundbreaking ceremony for a 70-megawatt, utility-scale solar project that will provide 25% of Penn State’s purchased electricity over the next 25 years. The project, a partnership between Penn State and Lightsource BP, will advance energy security and sustainability goals for the University and the commonwealth.
“Penn State’s expertise and commitment to research has created profound opportunities for the University to address some of the most pressing economic, environmental and sustainable challenges of our time,” said Barron. “We are proud to partner with Lightsource BP on a project that will help the University meet our ambitious goal of lowering greenhouse gas emissions while also saving on our utility costs.”
The largest solar project in Pennsylvania
Over 150,000 solar panels will be installed across three locations in Franklin County, on about 500 acres leased from local landowners. Lightsource BP will finance, build, own and operate the three solar farms, with Penn State purchasing all of the electricity generated under a 25-year power contract.
“When I came to office, I set out to build up our commonwealth’s energy portfolio, to diversify it and incorporate more clean, renewable sources,” said Wolf. “My mission to expand alternate energy sources has increased value to Pennsylvania’s solar energy credits and bolstered the development of new solar projects across the commonwealth. This resurgence of solar energy will help us make big strides in reducing our carbon footprint.”
The project is estimated to save Penn State at least $14 million over the contract term through solar’s low cost of electricity and will lower Penn State’s greenhouse gas emissions by 57,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, the equivalent of taking 12,100 fuel-burning cars off the road. It also will help to develop the Pennsylvania solar market, strengthen rural communities, employ over 250 people during the construction period, and provide farmers with an additional source of income, all aligning with Penn State’s institutional value of “community.”
The 70-megawatt project further supports Penn State’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 35% by 2020 and to diversify the University’s energy portfolio through the incorporation of solar power, aligning with the Penn State Strategic Plan, which cites stewardship of the planet’s resources as a key priority.
“This project is truly a win for Penn State, a win for Pennsylvania, and a win for the environment,” said Rob Cooper, senior director of energy and engineering in Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant. “This large-scale solar project located in PA provides many benefits for Penn State, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the local community. It provides immediate utility cost savings and long-term budget certainty and will lower Penn State’s greenhouse gas emissions. It also provides educational value, research potential, and student internships and jobs.”
A sustainable approach to solar farming
Sustainable concepts have been incorporated throughout the project’s development. The Nature Conservancy was involved with selecting a low-impact site, avoiding areas of high biodiversity and high resiliency. Additionally, Penn State researchers are involved with the selection of grasses, shrubs and plants for the site and its perimeter that will promote biodiversity and pollination. The facility is being constructed in a regenerative fashion, meaning steps are being taken not only to minimize damage to the land but also to improve soil health and create wildlife habitat.
“Lightsource BP has a track record of building solar farms that enhance local biodiversity and agriculture, and we’re excited to partner with Penn State to further advance that model with our projects in Pennsylvania,” said Kevin Smith, Lightsource BP’s CEO of the Americas. “Utility-scale solar development can provide cost competitive solutions and spur rural revitalization while energizing cleaner and healthier communities.”
Penn State and Lightsource BP are also facilitating the use of the solar project site as a “living lab,” making it possible for students, faculty and community members to conduct research and learn about the solar industry firsthand, furthering Penn State’s land-grant mission to serve the broader community.
“The Penn State/Lightsource BP solar power purchase agreement is unique in the way it maximizes the potential for solar farming to have a positive impact on our climate and communities,” said Paul Shrivastava, chief sustainability officer and director of the Sustainability Institute at Penn State. “Proactive partnerships between local landowners and organizations from the public and private sector make this an ideal model to look to as Pennsylvania’s solar farming industry continues to grow.”