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MIT solar energy purchase addresses carbon emissions

In the fall of 2016, MIT advanced its climate change mitigation efforts by joining with two local partners (Boston Medical Center and Post Office Square Redevelopment Corporation) in a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with Dominion Resources, a Virginia-based utility. The PPA enabled the construction of Summit Farms — a roughly 650-acre, 60-megawatt solar farm that otherwise would not have been built. This is the largest aggregated renewable-energy purchase by such an alliance of organizations in the U.S.

Summit Farms, an array of 255,000 solar panels occupying an area in North Carolina four times the size of MIT’s campus, is projected to generate 146 gigawatt-hours of emissions-free power per year, resulting in the abatement of 119,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. At the time, this was the equivalent of removing almost 25,250 cars from the road.

Through the PPA, MIT is committed to the annual fixed-price purchase of 73 percent (44 megawatts) of the electricity generated at Summit Farms, and we receive the corresponding federal Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). The emissions-free power is then sold to PJM, the mid-Atlantic regional grid operator, and distributed throughout that region — greening a grid that has been based for many years on energy generated through higher carbon-intensity processes. By keeping the RECs, MIT demonstrates renewable energy use equivalent to 40% of our total electricity use on campus.

Working together and aggregating demand enabled MIT and its partners to pursue a large-scale renewable energy project and capture benefits that would have been unavailable to them as solo actors. The Summit Farms PPA model is projected to be either cost neutral or a savings opportunity for each of the partners.

From a global perspective, MITís purchase of 44 megawatts of Summit Farms-generated electricity represents 87,600 metric tons of CO2-equivalent avoided emissions each year — equivalent to 41% of MITís 2014 baseline emissions. When we apply the Summit Farms RECs to the electricity we purchase each year from our local grid, the impact of this initial PPA on MITís carbon footprint is equivalent to more than half (17%) of the 32% emissions reductions MIT committed to in its Plan for Action on Climate Change, announced on Oct. 21, 2015.

Combined with on-campus emissions reduction measures, including enhanced building efficiencies and the upgrade of our cogeneration power plant, the Summit Farms PPA represents substantial progress on MIT’s path toward full carbon neutrality.

“It also enables us to demonstrate the feasibility of large-scale renewable energy projects to other potential purchasers, developers, and financiers,” says Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research, who is leading implementation of the Plan for Action on Climate Change. “We believe our experience can help catalyze similar investments in clean energy, which will be vital to achieving a zero-carbon global energy system within this century.”

Read MIT’s announcement of this solar power purchase agreement.

Note: The electricity supplied to the MIT campus is sourced from both the on-campus Central Utilities Plant and the local public utility grid. The RECs for this project are applied against the electricity purchased from the grid only.

 MIT announces solar power purchase agreement
 MIT’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory
 Plan for Action on Climate Change
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