Penn State

How a new solar field will provide 25% of Penn State’s electricity over the next 25 years

Penn State and Lightsource BP are breaking ground on the state’s largest solar array, which will provide 25% of the university’s electricity over the next 25 years.

The 70 megawatt solar array will be installed using 150,000 panels on 500 acres in three locations around rural Franklin County. Lightsource BP, a North America-based global solar developer, will install and operate all three solar farms, from which Penn State will buy all electricity generated under the contract.

“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,” Penn State President Eric Barron said last month. “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.”

Penn State has a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 35% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. The solar project is expected to reduce the university’s greenhouse gas emissions by 57,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Additionally, the project will save Penn State about $14 million in electricity costs over the contract’s duration.

“This large-scale solar project located in Pennsylvania provides many benefits for Penn State, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the local community,” said Rob Cooper, senior director of energy and engineering in Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant. “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.”

Penn State plans to use the solar array as a “living lab,” allowing students, faculty and community members to conduct research and learn about the solar industry. The Nature Conservancy, an environmental nonprofit, assisted Penn State in the land selection for the solar array.

Engineering consultant Stantec, based in Cumberland County, will provide electrical, structural and civil engineering design services for the project.

Penn State researchers will assist the project design team in creating an environmentally conscious design, like grasses and shrubs to help increase pollination and combat the decline of honeybee populations on the land leased for the solar array.

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Penn State and Lightsource BP are breaking ground on the the state’s largest solar array, which will be installed using 150,000 panels on 500 acres in three locations around rural Franklin County and provide 25% of the university’s electricity over the next 25 years.. Business Wire Rendering provided

Lightsource BP CEO of the Americas Kevin Smith said the company is excited to partner with Penn State and further its track record of building low-impact solar farms that co-exist with local biodiversity and agriculture.

“Utility-scale solar development can provide cost-competitive solutions and spur rural revitalization while energizing cleaner and healthier communities,” he said in a Penn State press release.

Paul Shrivastava, chief sustainability officer and director of the Sustainability Institute at Penn State, said the project leverages the solar farming industry to have a “positive impact” on the climate and local communities.

“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,” he said.

The project is expected to finish in July 2020.

Sarah Paez covers Centre County communities, government and town and gown relations for the Centre Daily Times. She studied English and Spanish at Cornell University and grew up outside of Washington, D.C.
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