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Construction has begun on a new 20-megawatt solar farm near the Pittsburgh International Airport that will supply 100% of its electricity to the University of Pittsburgh for the next two decades.
Built on 68 acres on the border of Findlay Township in Allegheny County and Independence Township in Beaver County, the Gaucho Solar project is expected to be online in 2023 and will be one of the largest solar projects in Western Pennsylvania once operational, with about 55,000 solar panels in use.
Once operational, the Gaucho Solar project is projected to produce more than 35,700 megawatt-hours of electricity annually, or about 18 % of the Pittsburgh campus’ electricity usage per year. It will lower the University’s greenhouse gas emissions by 15,452 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, the equivalent of taking nearly 3,330 fuel-burning cars off the road. Combined with future committed use of hydropower, at least 42% of the University’s future electricity will come from dedicated, local, renewable energy sources.
The partnership with Texas-based Vesper Energy is estimated to save the University millions of dollars over the contract term due to solar’s low comparative cost. In addition, directly purchasing clean electricity will generate long-term cost and environmental savings, require no upfront capital or maintenance costs for the University, and give Pitt price certainty throughout the contract.
“The University of Pittsburgh is fully committed to achieving carbon neutrality for our Pittsburgh campus by 2037, with local, renewable energy getting us one-third of the way there,” said Aurora Sharrard, executive director of sustainability at Pitt. “We are very excited for Vesper’s Gaucho Solar facility to be the largest contributing renewable asset to date for the University’s goals of producing or procuring 50% of our total Pittsburgh campus electricity from renewables by 2030 and 100% by 2037.”
In addition to including pollinator friendly landscaping, the project will incorporate an observation area adjacent to the solar array for educational experiences for Pitt students.
“Vesper Energy is proud to partner with the University of Pittsburgh to help achieve their goal of 100% renewable electricity powering the campus. Gaucho Solar is our first project to reach construction in the Keystone State. With great partners like the University of Pittsburgh, we plan to bring more clean energy projects online in Pennsylvania in the near future,” said Craig Carson, CEO of Vesper Energy.
Construction on the project will continue through the winter, with the facility expected to begin generating renewable electricity by mid-2023.
— Jared Stonesifer, photography by Tom Altany