As a major part of a campus-wide effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions, Brown University has finalized agreements for two renewable energy projects that are expected to produce enough combined solar and wind power to offset all on-campus electricity use.
The first project — a collaboration with Constellation and Providence-based Energy Development Partners (EDP) — will create Rhode Island’s highest-capacity contiguous solar generation project across a 240-acre field on a former gravel pit in North Kingstown.
The 50-MWdc solar facility is expected to deliver 40 MWac of power to the electrical grid. And use of the former gravel pit will avoid any encroachment on neighborhoods or large-scale tree-clearing, two quality-of-life and environmental concerns commonly associated with new renewable projects.
The North Kingstown project is expected to produce enough electricity to offset about 70% of Brown’s annual electricity consumption generated through fossil fuels. A second renewable energy project, an 8-MW wind power project being developed in Texas with another energy services provider, is expected to produce enough electricity to offset the rest of Brown’s annual use.
Together, the two projects position the University to far surpass the goal it set a decade ago to cut on-campus greenhouse gas emissions by 42% below 2007 levels by the year 2020. With the fulfillment of that goal in sight, Brown is now devising a plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions even more aggressively.
“In choosing to offset all on-campus electricity use with renewable energy, we are taking a significant step forward in reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said University President Christina Paxson. “We realize that there is much more work ahead to ensure we do all we can to contribute to global efforts to combat the increasingly dire threat posed by climate change.”
The two renewable energy projects enabled by Brown’s new energy services agreements were selected from a pool of proposals submitted by more than 30 developers across the country. Over many months, a committee of faculty and staff weighed each project’s economic, social, political and environmental strengths.
Committee chair Stephen Porder, Brown’s assistant provost for sustainability and an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, said the University’s renewable energy purchases will contribute significantly to the State of Rhode Island’s clean-energy objectives. In 2017, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced a goal to increase the amount of renewable energy in the state from 100 MW to 1,000 MW by 2020.
“By enabling the construction of 40 MW of new renewables that will flow directly into Rhode Island’s electrical grid, Brown will play a substantial role in boosting the renewable energy assets in support of the state’s clean energy goals,” Porder said.
“We applaud Brown University for making the switch to 100% renewable energy via these two projects,” said State Energy Commissioner Carol Grant. “Brown should be commended for siting its Rhode Island solar array in a thoughtful and responsible manner. Once this project moves forward, it will contribute to the governor’s goal to reach 1,000 MW of clean energy by 2020 and help our state continue to reduce its carbon emissions.”
The solar project in North Kingstown will transform a former sand and gravel mining site into a major renewable energy source. EDP will purchase the land and develop the site in collaboration with Constellation, an Exelon company, which will maintain ownership of the solar arrays and, together with Brown, lease the land. As outlined in a 25-year energy services agreement developed in partnership with CustomerFirst Renewables, Brown will obtain and retire project-specific renewable energy credits — essentially proof-of-ownership certificates that establish Brown’s right to claim the renewable energy as its own.
“Brown and its leadership should be commended for selecting this clean energy solution to help the University — and the state of Rhode Island — achieve their joint sustainability goals,” said Brendon Quinlivan, executive director of distributed energy origination at Constellation. “Increasingly, Constellation is working with schools and universities across the U.S. seeking to reduce their carbon footprint through the adoption of both on-site and off-site renewable energy solutions. Brown University has been a long-standing, valued Constellation customer, and we are exceptionally pleased to further diversify its energy sourcing strategies.”
Constellation’s portfolio includes over 377 MW of solar generation in operation or under construction nationwide.
Frank Epps, chief executive officer of EDP, said the North Kingstown Planning Commission and residential neighbors have supported the project enthusiastically. He attributes that support to the fact that construction will not disturb the surrounding woodlands and will ultimately improve nearby residents’ quality of life. What was once the site of dusty gravel piles and noisy tractors, Epps said, will become a quiet parcel of land lined with solar panels, and grass and other plants that will be planted to attract pollinators, including butterflies and bees.
“To residents whose property abuts this land, this project means less traffic on the roads, no more trucks going back and forth, no more loud noises, and no more sand and dust,” Epps said.
Epps added that EDP’s partnership with Brown isn’t confined to North Kingstown. The energy company has already partnered with Brown on a number of smaller, on-campus renewable-energy initiatives, and a $200,000 grant from EDP will fund student research in renewable energy at the University’s School of Engineering.
A specific timeframe for construction on both the solar arrays in Rhode Island and the wind farm in Texas will be determined based on further discussion among the University, its energy company providers and the local utility companies in both states responsible for issuing project-specific interconnection permissions.
Porder said the energy services agreements with Constellation and the Texas wind project developer continue a series of actions at Brown to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Brown had already reduced its emissions by 28% since 2007 through a variety of energy efficiency measures, including installing LED lighting around campus and converting its oil- and steam-powered heating systems to natural gas. Further energy efficiency measures are also under way, including increasing thermal efficiency at the University’s central heating facility.
Between those projects and these new renewable energy agreements, Porder said, Brown is on track to reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions by almost 67% relative to its 2007 benchmark.
“Eliminating our greenhouse gas emissions from electricity is one crucial step,” Porder said. “But we can’t afford to slow down. The scientific consensus is that society as a whole needs to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by the time today’s first-year college students are in their 40s. Brown has a real chance to lead the way in the fight against this existential threat.”
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