Penn State’s solar energy partnership recognized for sustainability innovation


Aerial view of solar power installation

One of three solar farms that make up the 70-megawatt solar array in Franklin County that will provide Penn State with 25% of its purchased electricity, across all campuses, over 25 years.

Image: MARK CHAMBERS/LIGHTSOURCE BP

Penn State has been awarded a 2020 Sustainability Innovation Award by APPA, the professional association of educational facilities, for its commitment to solar energy. Although still in its infancy, the 70-megawatt solar energy partnership between Penn State and Lightsource bp, which will provide 25% of the University’s statewide electrical needs, is drawing national attention.

In January 2019, the University signed a 25-year agreement with Lightsource bp to construct and purchase Pennsylvania-based solar energy. A groundbreaking ceremony followed in September 2019, and by October 2020, with the solar array constructed and ready for production, a virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to kick off the University’s purchasing of the renewable energy source. In total, the 500-acre solar energy project, located on three sites in Franklin County, will supply a quarter of the University’s statewide electricity needs and lower the University’s greenhouse gas emissions by 57,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, the equivalent of removing 12,100 fuel-burning cars from the road. Through the power-purchasing agreement, Penn State will save an estimated $14 million over the course of the 25-year agreement.

“This award further solidifies Penn State’s commitment to reduce our carbon emissions and support our local economy by purchasing renewable, Pennsylvania-produced energy,” said Bill Sitzabee, Penn State’s vice president of facilities management and planning and chief facilities officer. “Not only does the solar array help us achieve our energy goals, but it also provides high-quality research opportunities, stewards our environment, and supports rural Pennsylvania communities.”

In addition to supplying renewable energy, the University hopes the solar installation will provide a long-term living laboratory for Penn State students and faculty to learn and conduct research.

“The Sustainability Innovation Award is designed to recognize and promote unique and innovative sustainable practices in the educational facilities and campus environments, ultimately embedding them within the educational institution,” said Anthony Guerrero, vice president of member and community engagement for APPA.

The benefits are not limited to the University, however. The three site locations for Lightsource bp’s solar arrays are all leased from area farmers, providing a long-term diversified revenue stream. An emphasis during the construction phase, was placed on harmonizing with nature and the farming community. A pollinator-friendly seed mix was planted to promote biodiversity and sheep will forage on one of the sites, along with other agricultural practices.

Penn State previously earned the Sustainability Innovation Award by APPA in 2014 and is one of only three institutions to win the award multiple times.

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