Taking Climate Action for a Brighter Future
The next key phase in a University at Buffalo-led renewable energy project is about to see the light of day, quite literally. Construction will soon begin on two ground-mounted solar arrays on UB’s North Campus.
UB is currently working through structural design with Solar Liberty and is on track to install approximately 12 megawatts of on-site solar within the next year, which will consist of the ground-mounted arrays as well as roof tops. This will increase campus capacity by 15 times current levels. In addition to the on-site work, a consortium of local institutions, including UB, is also drafting an off-site RFP that will boost overall acquisition to 50% of UB’s overall electricity consumption.
Solar Liberty is constructing the ground-mount installations, which will create more than 60 jobs over the life of the project. In addition, the sites will be modeled similarly to UB’s award-winning Solar Strand (located at the Flint Road entrance to the North Campus) and remain accessible with no boundary fencing.
This clean energy work is one of 10 key strategies embedded in the university’s recently revised climate action plan. The plan, called UB’s 10 in 10, is a roadmap of innovative, engaging and digestible strategies the university is taking to increase climate action throughout the university.
To date, UB has reduced its carbon footprint 33% over the past several years, and aims to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030.
A series of solar arrays will be constructed between the John James Audubon Parkway and Bizer Creek. This project will require the removal of some selected trees — many of which have been infected by the Emerald Ash Beetle — with an equivalent amount of new trees being replanted on the campus.
Enjoy walking through a solar field! The largest concentration of new solar panels will be placed to the east of Millersport Highway on university-owned property in a large field near the Amherst bike path and 9/11 Memorial Grove. The installation will contain approximately 5 megawatts of generating capacity. Construction will not affect people’s ability to use and/or visit the bike path and memorial grove, as both will remain open and accessible.
Why is the University doing this project?
We live in complicated and changing times — perhaps more so than at any other period in history. We are starting to transition to systems that are more circular, regenerative, inclusive, effective and that mirror the Haudenosaunee principle: to make every decision considering its effect on seven generations.
This change is beginning to happen because we are listening to our scientists who are communicating that if we wait until we can feel the impact, it will be too late to stop it. We are seeing the economic value and business case that is being created by reducing our emissions. New York State is establishing the legal and regulatory framework to further UB’s work. Our students and young people are demanding immediate action and, most importantly, our lives depend upon our action. Read more about our work in our Climate Action Plan.
What is the timeline of this project?
Construction is set to begin at the end of November 2020 / early December 2020 and finish in Spring 2021. The solar arrays are planned to generate clean renewable energy for at least twenty years.
How is the University paying for this?
Key to the process is what’s known as a power purchase agreement, or PPA. It’s a different, more cost-effective way for large energy users to purchase power. For many bigger institutions, like a city or a university, annual energy costs are unpredictable and uncontrollable because the electricity rates vary depending on the market. Utility costs can fluctuate, but generally increase over a period of years.
A PPA, however, is a contract that locks in a fixed energy price over an extended period of time, anywhere from 10 to 30 years. That means that the buyer purchasing the power will be able to know for a long time exactly what their energy costs will be, and can budget accordingly.
How will these projects impact the wetlands they are on?
The solar arrays are not built on any designated wetlands and have cleared the state environmental review process.
Will trees need to be cut down to make room for the solar arrays?
A smaller grove of trees near the I990 entrance ramp and select others along Bizer Creek and the Audubon will need to be removed for solar installation and to reduce shade. Many of these trees would have needed to be removed regardless of the project as they have sadly been infected by the Emerald Ash Beetle and are dying. We will also be planting new trees on campus in excess of those that will need to be removed
Can I still use the bike path?
Yes. The bike path will not be affected by the construction of the solar field—in fact we think it will be enhanced!
Are the solar panels hot?
No! The panels are not hot and you cannot burn yourself by touching them (but please be careful with them!).
Will solar panels generate electricity during cloudy, rainy, or snowy days? What about at night?
Yes it will. Contrary to the conventional wisdom about Buffalo's weather, data from the National Weather Service shows that from May through November, Buffalo is the sunniest and driest city in the Northeast, making it an ideal candidate for generating solar power.
This project is made possible by funding through NYSERDA's REV Campus Challenge. For more information on UB's entire REV project, please visit the link below.