Half of Pennsylvania government’s power to come from solar by 2023

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Pennsylvania announced its commitment to a 191 megawatt solar project that is expected to produce nearly half the state government’s electricity.

Called Pennsylvania PULSE, the project is being touted by the state as the largest government solar energy commitment in the nation to date. Seven solar arrays will be built in six Pennsylvania counties — Columbia, Juniata, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and York — through the public-private partnership.

Curt Topper, secretary for the Department of General Services, said in a press conference March 22 that Pennsylvania has a 15-year power purchasing agreement to buy the electricity produced by the solar arrays at a flat rate. What that rate is was not disclosed.

The general service department contracted with Constellation, a Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission-licensed electric generation supplier, on the power purchasing agreement. Another company, Lightsource bp, will build, own and operate the solar arrays.

“The project shows we can all work together towards a common goal of preserving our environment for future generations,” Topper said.

Kevin Smith, chief executive officer for Americas at Lightsource bp, said the seven projects will take up between 1,800-2,000 acre of land in all, mostly farmland.

“Farmers are soliciting us to come onto their land to provide them with additional revenue sources,” Smith said.

Meeting goals

Pennsylvania PULSE, which stands for Project to Utilize Light and Solar Energy, also helps the state government fulfill the goals laid out in Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2019 climate change executive order. The order directed the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by 2025 and by 80% by 2050 compared with 2005 level, Topper said.

“Pennsylvania PULSE will help us achieve that emissions reduction, and it exceeds our goal of procuring renewable energy to offset at least 40% of the commonwealth’s annual electricity usage with renewable power generation,” he said.

Topper said the solar arrays will, once complete in January 2023, lower the state government’s annual carbon dioxide emissions by 157,000 metric tons.

Solar energy supplies less than 1% of the state’s energy right now. Patrick McDonnell, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection secretary, said there’s currently 700 megawatts of installed solar capacity in the state. A DEP report showed that  if the state can reach 11 gigawatts of installed solar capacity by 2030, “we can get 10% of our electricity from solar, which will help bring down emissions,” McDonnell said.

“Solar energy at an enterprise scale as Pennsylvania PULSE demonstrates will make a big impact,” he said. “The cleaner the grid is, the cleaner other greenhouse gas mitigations are, such as switching to electric transportation.”

McDonnell said solar projects also create opportunity to help with future farmland preservation and repurposing of abandoned reclamation.

Land impact

The project will create about 400 jobs during the construction period, which is expected to last about 18 months, Smith said.

The solar sites are still being developed. Smith said they’ve signed options with landowners. Once construction starts, their lease payments will begin, he said. Solar leases are typically 30 years and include language to decommission the site after that period of time and return the land to agricultural use.

Lightsource bp owns and operates four solar facilities in Pennsylvania, totaling more than 90 megawatts of capacity. That includes Penn State University’s 70-megawatt facility. Lightsource is also developing the 375-megawatt Birch Solar project in Allen and Auglaize counties in Ohio.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

1 COMMENT

  1. Solar is a viable option for electrical power. What greatly disturbs me is the 1800-2000 acres of farmland loss. And this is for 191 megawatts of generation. DEP study is looking for 11 gigawatts. That’s 57.6 times this project. That times the 1800-2000 equals 103,680 – 115,200 acres! And mostly farmland? And that 11 gig is only TEN PERCENT of our usage. So are we trading electric for food? Or do our fine leaders think as most do – we just go to the grocery store for food! We are losing farmland at an alarming rate (turn to the auction pages if you don’t believe me), and plunking down glistening arrays is not the answer to that issue.

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