Three Lehigh Valley colleges have joined in a partnership to buy renewable energy from a Texas solar farm, a move that will help keep thousands of tons of carbon emissions out of the air every year, officials said Monday.
The event is organized by Second Nature, a climate action group that works with higher education institutions. The schools signed a 15-year agreement to buy renewable energy generated by a newly constructed 200-acre solar farm.
“Climate issues are a critical global challenge,” Lehigh University President John D. Simon said in a statement. “This project is one opportunity for Lehigh to demonstrate climate leadership and to energize the campus and broader community. We are proud to partner with other nearby institutions in a project that both advances our sustainability goals and shows the effectiveness of leveraging collaborative agreements.”
The schools began collaborating in January 2019, aiming to improve energy sustainability among academic institutions in Pennsylvania and demonstrate how a mix of mid-sized and small institutions can leverage greater purchasing power than individual schools.
Collectively, the group’s 45.9-megawatt share of the project is expected to prevent more than 70,000 metric tons of carbon emissions each year, which is equivalent to removing more than 15,000 cars from the road. It’s also the amount of carbon dioxide captured by about 85,000 acres of forest.
“This is a momentous step that helps move us toward our 2035 carbon neutrality goal,” Lafayette College President Alison Byerly said. “This effort alone will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 47% as we continue to explore energy conservation initiatives.”
The schools engagedCustomerFirst Renewables, a renewable energy adviser, to find a way to reduce emissions. Though the schools were initially focused on contracting for a local project, analysis showed the Texas project would prevent roughly 15% more emissions than one in the mid-Atlantic.
The Texas site is also on barren land, allowing the group to avoid the tree clearing or farm displacement often required for mid-Atlantic projects.
“Muhlenberg College is proud to partner with other Pennsylvania higher education institutions on this large-scale solar energy project,” President Kathleen Harring said. “While our campuswide sustainability efforts began nearly two decades ago, this project, along with our other environmental initiatives, enables our campus to have a carbon-neutral electricity footprint for the first time.”
As part of the education and research opportunities, the project developer will conduct rotating guest lectures at each of the four institutions.
In addition, two students will be selected each summer for internships with the renewable energy developer for eight years. The schools also will have access to real-time production data from the solar asset for research purposes at each institution.
Timothy Carter, president of Second Nature, said the schools’ agreement “illustrates true leadership, a collaborative approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and provides an example of how other campuses can meet their individual climate goals and support the transition of the electricity grid to cleaner sources of power.”