UC makes largest solar energy purchase by U.S. higher education institution

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The University of California announced Monday that it signed two power-purchase agreements that, combined, will provide 206,000 megawatt hours of solar energy per year — the largest solar energy purchase by any higher education institution in the United States.

This energy is equivalent to powering 30,000 homes and will avoid the production of more than 88,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The initiative will provide power for UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UCSF, along with their medical centers, in addition to UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz.

Mark Byron, the university’s wholesale electricity program manager, described the purchase as a “nexus” with UC President Janet Napolitano’s sustainability initiative, which was released in November of last year. One of the main components of the initiative is the goal of being carbon neutral by 2025.

“By injecting solar energy, we’re making sure our portfolio comes from green energy,” Byron explained.

The university signed the 25-year agreements with Frontier Renewables, a San Mateo-based company focused on solar energy technology. Two solar fields will be built in Fresno County as part of the project.

In searching for a company with which to partner, Byron said pricing, quality of individuals in the company and quality of the company were considered.

The UC Berkeley chapter of CALPIRG led a campaign this semester called Go Solar, an effort to make cities such as Berkeley adopt policies toward more affordable and accessible solar energy.

“This historic step should be applauded for both reducing our carbon emissions and setting an example for the rest of the state and nation to follow,” said Murong Li, a CALPIRG chair, in an email.

Corie Radka, a UC Berkeley alumna and CALPIRG campus organizer, acknowledged that “this is a huge step” but that more needs to be done to reach carbon neutrality beyond solar energy.

“Solar is a major component (of sustainability), but as we know, carbon neutrality is a life cycle, from water to the materials that we use to the electricity that we use — everything,” Radka said.

The purchase announcement comes close to the UC Task Force on Sustainable Investing’s release of its recommendation on fossil fuel divestment, which will be discussed by the UC Board of Regents Committee on Investments at its Friday meeting.

Katie Hoffman, campaign director for the California Student Sustainability Coalition at UC Berkeley, said she’s curious to see how the task force’s recommendations will align with the solar agreement and the purchase shouldn’t overshadow the issue of divestment.

“When we’re fighting for a sustainable economy, we want to be aligned across these different sections,” Hoffman said.

Construction on the solar fields is expected to be completed by late 2016, and the projects are scheduled to be posted online by the end of 2016.

Jean Lee covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @missjeanlee.

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  • Kim McCoy

    This will be a much better place for higher education’s largest solar array than Wooster, OH…

  • Ryan Lynch

    Crucial to note: UC Berkeley is not directly benefitting from this agreement. “University of California” is meant to refer to the entire multi-campus system, not Cal. This campus still has lots of work to do regarding renewables.