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Work has begun on a 150,000-panel solar installation that will supply clean energy to Penn State.

Penn State begins construction of 150,000-panel solar array

The installation in Franklin County, Pa., is projected to provide 25% of the university's electricity over the next 25 years.

Penn State officials have broken ground on a 70-megawatt, utility-scale solar project that is projected to provide 25% of the university's purchased electricity over the next 25 years.

The university says the project, a partnership between Penn State and Lightsource BP, calls for more than 150,000 solar panels to be installed across three locations in Franklin County, Pa., on about 500 acres leased from local landowners.

“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,” says Penn State President Eric J. Barron . “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.”

Lightsource BP will finance, build, own and operate the three solar farms, and Penn State will buy all of the electricity generated under a 25-year power contract.

The project is estimated to save Penn State at least $14 million over the contract term and will lower Penn State’s greenhouse gas emissions by 57,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year—the equivalent of taking 12,100 fuel-burning cars off the road.

The project will move Penn State closer to its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 35% by 2020.

Sustainable concepts have been incorporated throughout the project’s development. The Nature Conservancy was involved with selecting a low-impact site, avoiding areas of high biodiversity and high resiliency.

Penn State researchers also are involved in selecting grasses, shrubs and plants for the site and its perimeter that will promote biodiversity and pollination. The facility is being constructed in a regenerative fashion, meaning steps are being taken not only to minimize damage to the land but also to improve soil health and create wildlife habitat.

Penn State and Lightsource BP are facilitating the use of the solar project site as a “living lab,” making it possible for students, faculty and community members to conduct research and learn about the solar industry firsthand.

“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,” says Paul Shrivastava, chief sustainability officer and director of the Sustainability Institute at Penn State.

“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.”

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