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Solar power deal accelerates Pitt’s sustainability progress


The University of Pittsburgh is continuing to drive progress toward achieving carbon neutrality through a new solar power purchase agreement that will supply approximately 13% of the Pittsburgh campus’ annual electricity usage.

Under the 20-year agreement, the University will purchase all of the renewable electricity produced by a planned 20-megawatt solar power facility on the border of Allegheny and Beaver counties. 

Plans for the Gaucho Solar development, which would be located on 70 acres in Independence and Findlay townships, adjacent to electric utility Duquesne Light Company’s Clinton substation, are currently being reviewed by municipal authorities.

Subject to municipal project approvals, the solar installation would begin operations in mid-2022.

“Electricity generation accounts for about half of the University’s greenhouse gas emissions, so our commitment to local, renewable solar power is an important part of Pitt’s ongoing effort to reduce its carbon  footprint,” said Aurora Sharrard, Pitt’s director of sustainability. “At the same time, it benefits the entire community by reducing pollutants from electricity generation that harm the region’s air quality.”

The University has committed to a carbon neutral Pittsburgh campus by 2037, Pitt’s 250th anniversary. In the interim, the Pitt Sustainability Plan calls for halving Pitt’s greenhouse gas emissions (from a 2008 baseline) and sourcing 50% of Pitt’s electricity from renewables by 2030.

Solar power is not only clean energy, but cost effective as well, and expected to help reduce the University’s utility costs long-term, she said.

“Pitt had over 23% renewables in its electricity mix for calendar year 2019, up from 11% in 2018,” Sharrard said. The University’s Office of Sustainability tracks Pitt’s carbon reduction progress via an online sustainability dashboard; fiscal year 2019 updates are expected later this year.

Combining the University’s new solar agreement with previously announced plans to purchase power from a hydropower plant to be built on the Allegheny River, at least 38% of Pitt’s electricity will come from local renewable sources by 2023. 

Beyond making Pitt’s energy sourcing more sustainable, the proposed solar power facility will be able to be used as a living laboratory for student learning and research. Since the mid-2010s, the University has had small on-site solar arrays for student research atop Benedum Hall on the Pittsburgh campus and at Pitt-Bradford. In addition, the Pitt Energy GRID Institute has a new solar array for Electric Power Technologies Laboratory research at the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh’s Crawford-Roberts neighborhood.

Humans aren’t the only beneficiaries of this new solar power agreement: At Pitt’s request, Lendlease has agreed to install pollinator-friendly landscaping at the site, in line with Pitt’s Sustainable Landscape Design Guidelines.