New England colleges form solar buying partnership

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A coalition of New England colleges has formed to purchase electricity from a solar farm in Farmington, Maine. The New England College Renewable Partnership describes itself as the first collaborative purchase of solar electricity in New England higher education.

The New England College Renewable Partnership includes Amherst, Bowdoin, Hampshire, Smith and Williams Colleges. According to an announcement by Amherst, Mount Holyoke and UMass Amherst had also participated in earlier discussions about the project, but later abandoned the project, while Bowdoin joined the group. 

The partnership is collaborating to purchase power from a 25-megawatt solar array under development by a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources. Its predicted annual output is about 46,000 megawatt-hours, under a 20-year contract.

Each of the participating colleges describes environmental, financial, and educational benefits from the project. For example, the power purchase agreement reportedly requires that all involved colleges and their student bodies be allowed access to the project site and its data. Initial power deliveries are expected in late 2019. The colleges also cite other benefits from the project, including advancement of their sustainability and climate action initiatives.

Interest in cooperative or collaborative procurement of energy products or projects is rising. By collaborating as purchasers of solar energy, the colleges may have achieved some advantages over their options if going alone. The New England College Renewable Partnership cites its model as providing "market access that would not have been available to individual institutions, offering a scalable model that other colleges and universities can follow."Amherst's announcement explained that while each school has small energy demands, by "increasing the number of schools in the partnership, the group was able to raise the total demand for renewable energy."

Will other institutions follow this model of collaborative procurement of renewable energy?

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