Lafayette is partnering with Lehigh University, Muhlenberg College, and Dickinson College to purchase renewable energy as a collective. The partnership will enable all four institutions to mitigate 100% of their emissions associated with electricity consumption.

The schools announced at Second Nature’s 2020 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit that they have signed a 15-year virtual power purchase agreement to buy renewable energy generated by a newly constructed 200-plus-acre solar farm in Texas.

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

The announcement of the partnership comes nearly a year after Lafayette’s Board of Trustees approved the College’s Climate Action Plan 2.0 (CAP). The CAP charts a path for the College to achieve carbon neutrality through a combination of energy efficiency and conservation, use of renewable and alternative fuel sources, and carbon offsets.

Fewer than 50 of the nation’s approximately 4,200 higher education institutions have initiated new large-scale renewable energy projects. The new solar farm will be the 12th largest higher education renewable energy project in terms of megawatts, and because it will be built as a result of this purchase, it will add renewable energy to the country’s grid.

The schools began collaborating in pursuit of a renewable energy project in January 2019, aiming to advance sustainability interests among premier academic institutions in Pennsylvania and serve as an example of how a mix of midsize and small institutions can join together to leverage greater purchasing power.

This project will cover 100% of Lafayette’s purchased electricity and help the College in its quest toward carbon neutrality by offsetting 47 percent of greenhouse gases.

“This commitment to purchasing renewable energy is another example of Lafayette College demonstrating that a low carbon future is both financially viable and environmentally responsible,” says Delicia Nahman, the College’s director of sustainability. “The vision and leadership from our president and Board of Trustees cannot be underestimated: They know Lafayette must be a leader amongst higher education institutions in the transition to a low carbon future while continuing to prepare our students to solve 21st century challenges.”

Collectively, the group’s 45.9 megawatt share of the project is anticipated to help prevent more than 70,000 metric tons of carbon emissions each year, which is equivalent to removing more than 15,000 cars from the road or the amount of carbon sequestered by nearly 85,000 acres of forest. The partnership, combined with other energy and efficiency efforts at each campus, will enable each institution to meet its individual 100% renewable energy goals.

As part of education and research opportunities, the project developer will conduct rotating guest lectures at each of the four institutions. In addition, two students from participating schools will be selected each summer over eight years for internships at the renewable energy site. The schools also will have access to real-time production data from the solar asset for research purposes at each institution.

The schools cohort engaged CustomerFirst Renewables, a renewable energy adviser, to competitively source and contract for a renewable energy solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The group evaluated each potential renewable energy project across myriad factors, including environmental impact, grid-avoided emissions impact, project economics, project developer credentials, development risk, and education and research opportunities provided to students. Though the schools initially were focused on contracting for a local project, analysis indicated that, due to the more carbon-intensive fuel mix of the Texas grid, a Texas-based project would result in roughly 15% more avoided emissions than a project sited in the local mid-Atlantic grid. As a result, they opted for the additional environmental impact of the Texas project. The project carries the additional benefit of being sited on barren land, allowing the group to avoid the tree clearing or farm displacement often required for mid-Atlantic-based projects.