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Fifty percent of the state government’s electricity will be produced through a major solar energy initiative to be completed by 2023, state officials confirmed Monday.
The project is the largest solar commitment by any government in the U.S. announced to date, officials said. Boosted by seven solar arrays in six counties, it will generate 191 megawatt hours, or the equivalent of taking 34,000 cars off the roads.
The initiative is part of Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2019 GreenGov plan for the state government to reduce energy usage and improve energy efficiency of state buildings and vehicles.
“In issuing the GreenGov challenge, I charged state government with leading by example in demonstrating sustainable governance and lowering greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the risks of climate change in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said in a statement. “This included significantly reducing energy use and pursuing an ambitious goal of obtaining at least 40 percent of electricity from clean energy generated in [the] state. I commend General Services for their GreenGov leadership in not only meeting this goal but exceeding it.”
According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency numbers, Pennsylvania’s energy commitment will make it the sixth-largest customer of renewable energy among local governments in the United States
The projects are in various stages of development across Columbia, Juniata, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and York counties and take up approximately 1,800-2,000 acres of farmland.
The state signed long-term leases running 30-plus years, with farmers receiving quarterly lease payments for the use of the land.
Farmers can continue farming the balance of their land, state officials confirmed Monday, noting the interest in the project from farmers looking to diversify their revenue sources.
The project will create approximately 400 jobs, amounting to about 75 jobs per project. The jobs will primarily be in construction, mechanical and electrical maintenance.
Mark Szybist, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) applauded the initiative, saying the state was “showing the rest of the nation how to fight climate change, create jobs, and save taxpayers money—all at the same time.
“This procurement will supply roughly half of the state’s government operations with clean, home-grown energy that [is] insulated from price shocks that come from natural gas and will not exacerbate the damage that fracking has already brought upon communities,” he continued, “This also means jobs for Pennsylvanians, with big solar projects coming to Montour, Snyder, York and other counties in the state. Gov. Wolf is following up on the commitments he made in his 2019 climate change executive order in a very big way.”
On a call with reporters Monday, state officials confirmed that they expect the project would provide 364,000 megawatt hours of electricity to 16 separate state agencies each year.
That total production represents just a drop in the bucket of statewide electricity generation and carbon emissions. Pennsylvania produces 21 million megawatts per hour of electricity each year — mostly from natural gas.
It’ll also shave just a few hundred thousand tons off the 215 million metric tons of carbon dioxide Pennsylvania releases every year, according to federal data.
But it’s part of a larger national trend of state and local governments buying up renewable energy. It’s also a way for governments to be a trendsetter, argued PennFuture energy analyst Rob Altenburg.
“It sends a message to large energy consumers that power purchase agreements for clean renewable generation are often a smart choice, and it lets them reach their climate goals, without additional up-front investment,” he said in an email.
Philadelphia, the state’s largest city, announced last year that 22 percent of the electricity to power municipal buildings would come from an Adams County solar facility by 2021.
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