How four colleges teamed up to buy solar power

All four institutions will mitigate 100% of electricity-related emissions

Four Pennsylvania schools will reach carbon neutrality together thanks to a purchasing collective they’ve formed to buy solar power.

Dickinson College, Lehigh University, Lafayette College and Muhlenberg College will purchase the largest amount of solar power of any group of independent colleges in the nation, according to a statement released by the schools.

The schools’ leaders have signed a 15-year “virtual power purchase agreement” to buy energy generated by a 200+ acre solar farm in Texas. Such ventures have been rare in higher education, the schools said.

“This year, Dickinson achieved its carbon neutrality goal, but we can’t stop there,” Dickinson College President Margee M. Ensign said in a statement.” Colleges and universities must continue innovating and leading in this area.”

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The 45.9 megawatts of power the schools will buy will prevent over 70,000 metric tons of carbon emissions each year—equivalent to removing over 15,000 cars from the road. The schools will also have access to real-time data from the solar farm for research purposes.

“This is a momentous step that helps move us toward our 2035 carbon neutrality goal,” said Lafayette College President Alison Byerly. “This effort alone will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 47 percent as we continue to explore energy conservation initiatives.”

About 40 of the nation’s approximately 4,200 colleges and universities that have launched large-scale renewable energy projects in recent years, says Kristine Yahna Todaro
Muhlenberg‘s director of news & media relations.

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Earlier this year, Colorado College says it became the first higher ed institution in the Rocky Mountain region to achieve carbon neutrality, even while increasing its building footprint by more than 10%.

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The college buys fewer carbon offsets than any other U.S campus, which means carbon neutrality has been achieved primarily by steep reductions in the campus’s carbon footprint, the school said in a news release.

Colorado College’s Tutt Library also became the nation’s largest net-zero-energy academic library thanks to an underground geothermal energy project and major renovations.

And in April 2019, Colgate University became the first college in New York to reduce its net carbon emissions to zero. Over the last 10 years, the college has installed solar arrays and geothermal heating and cooling systems; achieved LEED certifications on several buildings; set its own green building standards; and purchased carbon offsets for employee travel.

In 2018, five New England colleges—Amherst, Hampshire, Smith and Williams in western Massachusetts, along with Bowdoin in Maine—also combined their buying power to launch a solar farm in Farmington, Maine, University Business reported.

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Update: In December 2020, the Solar Project Collaboration by Muhlenberg, Dickinson, Lafayette and Lehigh was recognized with a 2020 Campus Sustainability Achievement Award from The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.   

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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