This month, Penn State began purchasing renewable electricity generated from three Lightsource bp solar farms that have completed construction in Franklin County. The projects were initiated in early 2019 upon the signing of a 70 MW Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), under which Penn State would purchase 100% of the electricity generated by the projects constructed and operated by Lightsource bp.
In total, the solar farms will produce more than 100 million kWhs of electricity in year one, supplying 25% of the University’s state-wide electricity needs and lowering Penn State’s greenhouse gas emissions by 57,000 mtCO2e per year. It will provide Penn State with estimated cost savings in year one of $272,000 and more than $14 million over the 25-year contract term.
Beyond the carbon reduction and cost-savings benefits of the solar farms, Penn State and Lightsource bp have a wider mission to maximize the sustainability impacts of solar farming in the US with a comprehensive approach that bolsters resilience in rural communities, fosters biodiversity, improves soil health and pollinator habitat, and provides a long-term living laboratory for students to learn and innovate for a sustainable future.
The project contributes significantly to the achievement of Penn State’s goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 35% from 2005 levels by 2020, and to the realization of Pennsylvania’s goal to reduce its emissions by 80% from 2005 levels by 2050.
More than 50 Penn State students with a variety of majors, including business, engineering and marketing, have experienced, and will continue to have access to a variety of learning, research and internship opportunities related to the solar project.
One group of senior engineering students worked with Lightsource bp through the University’s Bernard J. Gordon Learning Factory to design an interactive Microsoft Excel guide for wind and solar developers learning how to navigate the grid-interconnection process and related requirements and fees on the local, state and federal level. Another class of students within Penn State’s Smeal College of Business had the opportunity to work on a semester-long, real-world project and then pitch business marketing strategies to executives at Lightsource bp as part of their class with Karen Winterich, professor and Frank and Mary Smeal Research Fellow at the college. And during Fall 2019 semester, graduate researchers from multiple disciplines across the University toured the solar site as part of the LandscapeU program which studies the food-energy-water system in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and elsewhere.
The three solar farms are situated on 500 acres of land leased by Lightsource bp from landowners in Franklin County. In partnership with Penn State, farmers, and ecology and grazing experts, Lightsource bp created a plan to enhance biodiversity as well as continue agricultural use through rotational sheep-grazing to maintain the land and provide a supplemental source of income to local farmers.
Each of the three solar farms — called Nittany 1, 2 and 3 — were seeded with a specially formulated seed mix aptly named “Fuzz” and “Buzz.” Developed by the American Solar Grazing Association in partnership with Ernst Conservation Seeds and Pollinator Service, Fuzz and Buzz was specifically designed for solar sites to support grazing, and biodiverse enough to support a range of pollinators. In Pennsylvania as well as around the world, habitat loss, disease and environmental contaminants have caused pollinator populations to decline, which has detrimental effects on food crops that rely on pollinators.
The Nittany 1 site will be the first to support grazing activities, to begin in Spring 2021. Sheep-grazing will keep the farmland in farm production and employ Pennsylvania farmers. It can also improve soil health by increasing the cycling of nutrients, carbon and water.