Solar array

Only about one half of 1% of power currently generated in Pennsylvania is solar, including installations like this, a federally subsidized solar array at Heidel Hollow Farms in Germansville, PA, installed in 2011.

Pennsylvania officials today announced what they say is the largest purchase of solar energy ever by a state, committing to buy enough electricity to power half of the state government’s usage by 2023.

The power will be generated from new solar arrays to be built at seven locations on 1,800–2,000 acres of leased farmland in six central Pennsylvania counties. The 191 megawatts of electricity the state has committed to buy for 15 years is equivalent to powering about 24,000 homes, according to a Pennsylvania-based comparison drawn up by the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The solar arrays will be built and owned by Lightsource bp, a San Francisco-based renewable energy arm of British Petroleum. The power will be sold by Constellation, a subsidiary of Exelon.

The solar arrays will be built in Columbia, Juniata, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and York counties. The resultant power would supply 434 accounts across 16 state agencies.

The project vastly advances Gov. Tom Wolf’s climate change executive order in 2019, when he vowed to lower Pennsylvania’s greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by 2025. State officials expect the project to exceed Wolf’s goal for increases in renewable energy.

It would reduce emissions of carbon, a potent climate-change gas, in Pennsylvania by about 158,000 metric tons a year.

Kevin Smith of Lightsource bp said Pennsylvania’s commitment to largescale solar energy is a model for other states and “will usher in a new sustainable era.”

He said the sites for the arrays mostly came from farmers leasing portions of their acreage to keep their farms viable. After 30 years or so, when the leases are over, farmers will have the option to renew the leases or have the solar arrays removed and put the land back into agriculture.

At a virtual news conference to announce the project, Pat McDonnell, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, lauded the move and said the state “needs to move to clean, renewable energy as greenhouse gasses continue to change our climate.” According to the DEP, Pennsylvania could see a 5-degree rise in average temperatures by mid-century if greenhouse gas emissions are not sharply curbed.

Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources which owns millions of acres of state forest lands and state parks, called the solar project “a truly remarkable day in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.” She said the renewable electricity will be used to power many of the agency’s 4,700 buildings.

National and state environmental groups were quick to laud the project, called Pennsylvania PULSE. David Masur of PennEnvironment, said, “This historic commitment is the definition of leading by example and places our state at the front of the pack when it comes to this important form of renewable energy.”

Joseph Otis Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council, commended Wolf “for demonstrating leadership and ensuring that state government does its part to curb greenhouse gas emissions.”

Added Mark Szybist of the Natural Resources Defense Council, “Pennsylvania is showing the rest of the nation how to fight climate change, create jobs and save taxpayers money — all at the same time.”

Pennsylvania has been criticized in recent years for lagging behind investments in solar energy. In 2019, the state was only 25th in the nation in the amount of solar installations, though it rose to 16th in 2020, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Only about one half of 1% of the energy produced in Pennsylvania comes from solar facilities.

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Ad Crable is a Bay Journal staff writer based in Pennsylvania. Contact him at 717-341-7270 or acrable@bayjournal.com.

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