Solar energy will soon power about one-third of University of Kentucky’s electricity

View of the campus from Helipad on July 7, 2021. Photo by Mark Cornelison | UK photo

The University of Kentucky has entered into an agreement with its electricity supplier, Kentucky Utilities Company (KU), to purchase 44% of the output of a new 125 MW solar facility. KU and its sister company, Louisville Gas and Electric Company (LG&E), filed the contracts for the project with the Kentucky Public Service Commission earlier this week. The facility is planned for McCracken County, near Paducah, and is expected to be online by 2025. Four other organizations, including the University of Louisville, plan to purchase power from the project.

The agreement positions the University of Kentucky as the largest purchaser of solar energy to date under KU’s Green Tariff Renewable Power Agreement. Once operational, this solar installation will supply approximately one third of the campus’s electricity consumption.

“This project is another example of the power of partnership to achieve goals that not only benefit our institution, but also the Commonwealth we seek to promote,” said Eric N. Monday, executive vice president for finance and administration of the UK. “A priority for the University of Kentucky is to continually find more sustainable approaches to our energy needs. That will benefit the UK, as well as the state we serve as we strive – with partners such as LG&E and KU – to create a sustainable energy future for Kentucky as well.”

The agreement will also help the university keep its energy costs under control by locking in the price paid to generate this portion of its power for a 20-year term. Buying a third of the UK’s power from renewable sources also diversifies the mix of fuels the university relies on for electricity and increases the resilience of campus utilities.

“This project supports the University of Kentucky’s operational agility, long-term energy price stability and energy diversity while furthering our sustainability and carbon footprint reduction goals,” said Xavier I. Rivera Marzán , Executive Director of Utilities and Energy Management in the UK.

Integrating campus activities with the academic experience of students and faculty is a high priority for UK and Facility Management. Using the campus and campus activities as a classroom and laboratory is nationally recognized as a high-impact practice that improves student success. This initiative is a strong example of this commitment. The UK leadership team for this project worked with KU to include language in the contract that explicitly states the university’s interest in exploring academic integration opportunities across all phases of the project. The university — through the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment; the Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER); the Bureau for Sustainability; and Facility Management — also explores collaboration opportunities with government agencies, the utility, and other stakeholders to explore emerging research and application questions at the intersection of solar energy and land use in Kentucky.

“The UK Center for Applied Energy Research has worked closely with LG&E and KU on a wide range of research and development projects,” said Rodney Andrews, director of CAER. “We are pleased that the university is continuing this partnership with a solar energy purchase agreement. We look forward to the opportunity to collaborate on developing new technologies that can improve the efficiency and longevity of solar energy systems.”

This agreement represents significant progress towards the university’s sustainability goals in energy and climate.

“We are well on track to meet our 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025,” said Shane Tedder, UK Sustainability Officer. “The potential emissions reductions from this project allow the UK to set our sights on ambitious future targets.”

The project is also part of LG&E and KU’s long-term goal, along with parent company PPL Corporation, to achieve zero emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in its operations by 2050, with interim targets of 70% reductions from 2010 level by 2035 and an 80% reduction by 2040.

The university is updating its Strategic Plan for Sustainability and resetting the emissions reduction target post will be part of that effort later this year.

News release from the University of Kentucky

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