Penn State students joined Governor Tom Wolf and Penn State President Eric Barron at a ceremony launching Penn State’s newest and biggest eco-friendly initiative — a 70-megawatt, off-site solar energy project that will provide 25 percent of the university’s purchased electricity over the next 25 years.
The university partnered with Lightsource BP, a solar energy company, to develop the project.
The project is part of Penn State’s strategic plan entitled “Stewarding Our Planet’s Resources,” which will promote sustainable practices and energy security on a campus-wide and statewide level.
“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,” Barron said in a press release. “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.”
With over 150,000 solar panels installed at three locations across Franklin County on approximately 500 acres of local landowner property, the project is the largest solar project in Pennsylvania.
The project will generate electricity that the university will purchase from three solar farms. The farms will be financed, built, owned and operated by Lightsource BP.
“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,” Wolf said in a press release. “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.”
University Park Undergraduate Association Vice President Jake Griggs and Chair of the Governmental Affairs Committee Zachary McKay attended the ceremony.
During UPUA’s meeting on Sept. 11, Griggs and McKay both spoke briefly about attending the event. Griggs referred to the new solar farms as “remarkable” and in a beautiful area, calling it the first ever of its kind.
McKay expressed his excitement about sitting behind Governor Wolf during the ceremony, joking that he wished he would have formally introduced himself and networked more.
Penn State is estimated to save a minimum of $14 million over the duration of the contract through the low cost of solar electricity and will lower the university’s greenhouse gas emissions by 57,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.
The project will also help develop Pennsylvania’s solar market, boost rural communities economically, provide employment for over 250 people during the farms’ construction periods and provide another source of income for farmers.
The initiative will allow Penn State to reach its goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, and will create another unique way the university can increase its sustainability, as it incorporates solar power into the “Stewarding Our Planet’s Resources” plan.
“This project is truly a win for Penn State, a win for Pennsylvania and a win for the environment,” Rob Cooper, senior director of energy and engineering in Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant, said in a press release.
Sustainability has remained a key concept through the development of the solar energy project.
The Nature Conservancy helped in selecting the farm locations to ensure the sites were low-impact and avoided areas of high biodiversity and resilience.
Penn State researchers helped in selecting the grasses, shrubs and plants for the farms and their surroundings that would continue to promote biodiversity and pollination.
The locations are being built in a regenerative manner, ensuring that damage be minimized during construction, and soil health and the local wildlife habitat is preserved.
“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,” Kevin Smith, Lightsource BP’s CEO of North and South America, said in the release.
Penn State and Lightsource BP have adopted the idea of using the solar project and its progress as an observed “living lab.” Therefore, students, faculty and locals can learn about solar energy in a hands-on environment and conduct research on solar power and biodiversity on the energy farms. This concept furthers Penn State’s land-grant goal to serve the campus’s surrounding communities.
“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,” Paul Shrivastava, chief sustainability officer and director of the Sustainability Institute at Penn State, said in the release. “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.”