Penn State’s 70-MW solar mission portfolio is now producing energy and supporting sheep grazing
Penn State University has started purchasing renewable power from three Lightsource bp solar farms that have completed construction in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. The projects were initiated in 2019 with the signing of a 70 MW PPA under which Penn State would buy 100% of the electricity generated by the projects built and operated by Lightsource bp.
In total, the solar farms will provide 25% of the university’s national electricity needs, providing Penn State with estimated cost savings of $ 272,000 in the first year and more than $ 14 million over the 25-year contract term.
“At a time when we are faced with so many great challenges, the start of this 25 year power purchase agreement is a brilliant moment and a real expression of the university’s ability and commitment to not only grow, but to be successful in some way that will improve the health and sustainability of the planet and future generations, “said David Gray, vice president of finance and economics and treasurer of Penn State.
More than fifty Penn State students with a variety of majors including business, engineering and marketing are experienced and will continue to have access to a variety of solar project-related learning, research and internship opportunities.
“From planning to implementation and beyond, our students were given first-hand, once-in-a-lifetime access to innovative learning and research opportunities related to the growing renewable energy industry. These vivid laboratory experiences prepare students for new career opportunities and a better future for all of us, ”said Eric Barron, president of the university.
A group of senior engineering students worked with Lightsource bp through the University’s Bernard J. Gordon Learning Factory to create an interactive Excel guide for wind and solar developers that Lightsource bp executives used as part of their class with Karen Winterich, professor, Can develop business marketing strategies and be a Smeal Research Fellow in college. In the fall semester of 2019, graduates from various university disciplines toured the solar site as part of the LandscapeU program, which studies the food-energy-water system in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and elsewhere.
“It was an added benefit that Penn State students were involved in the project and contributed to our business strategy,” said Kevin Smith, CEO of Americas, Lightsource bp. “We were impressed with their critical thinking and their caliber of work.”
The three solar farms are located on 500 acres of land leased by local landowners and provide diversified, reliable cash flow to the local Pennsylvania farming community. In addition, Lightsource bp worked with Penn State, local farmers, ecology and pasture experts to develop a biodiversity improvement and continued agricultural use through rotating sheep pasture to preserve the land and provide an additional source of income for local farmers.
Each of the three solar parks – named Nittany 1, 2, and 3 – were seeded with a specially formulated seed mix called Fuzz & Buzz. Developed by the American Solar Grazing Association (ASGA) in collaboration with Ernst Conservation Seeds and Pollinator Service, Fuzz & Buzz is specifically designed for solar locations to support grazing and biodiversity is sufficient to support a range of pollinators . In Pennsylvania and around the world, habitat loss, disease, and pollution have all led to a decline in pollinator populations, which is detrimental to food crops that depend on pollinators.
The Nittany 1 site will be the first to support grazing activities starting in spring 2021. The sheep pasture will keep the farmland in agricultural production and employ farmers in Pennsylvania. It can also improve soil health by increasing the circulation of nutrients, carbon and water.
“From the beginning of our partnership with Penn State, the focus has been on affordability and community and environmental benefits. Penn State’s robust Request for Proposal (RFP) process could serve as a template for other universities to maximize the positive impact of investing in renewable energy, ”said Emilie Wangerman, vice president of business development at Lightsource bp.
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