By Shane Tedder and Meg Mills
The University of Kentucky has entered into an agreement with its electricity provider, Kentucky Utilities Company (KU), to purchase 44% of the output of a new 125-megawatt (MW) solar facility. KU and its sister utility, 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 in 2025. Four other organizations, including the University of Louisville, plan to buy power from the project.
The agreement positions the University of Kentucky as the largest purchaser of solar power under KU’s Green Tariff – Renewable Power Agreement, to date. Once operational, this solar facility will provide approximately one-third of the electricity consumed by the campus.
“This project is another example of the power of partnership to achieve goals that will not only benefit our institution but the Commonwealth we seek to advance,” said Eric N. Monday, UK executive vice president for finance and administration. “A priority for the University of Kentucky is continually finding more sustainable approaches to our energy needs. That benefits UK, but also benefits the state we serve as we seek — 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 control its utility costs by locking the price paid for generating this portion of its power for a 20-year term. Purchasing a third of UK’s power from renewable sources also diversifies the mix of fuels the university relies on for electricity and this boosts the resilience of campus utility systems.
“This project will support the University of Kentucky’s operational flexibility, long-term energy price stability and energy diversity while also advancing our sustainability and carbon footprint reduction goals,” said Xavier I. Rivera Marzán, UK’s executive director of utilities and energy management.
Integrating the operations of the campus with the academic experience of students and faculty is a high priority for UK and Facilities Management. Utilization of the campus and campus operations as a classroom and lab is recognized nationally as a high-impact practice that enhances student success. This initiative is a strong example of this commitment. UK’s 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 throughout all phases of the project. The university — through the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment; the Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER); the Office of Sustainability; and Facilities Management — is also exploring partnership opportunities with state agencies, the utility and other stakeholders to investigate emerging research and application questions at the intersection of solar power and land use in Kentucky.
“The UK Center for Applied Energy Research has worked closely with LG&E and KU on a wide variety of research and development projects,” said Rodney Andrews, director of CAER. “We are excited the university is continuing this partnership with a solar purchase agreement.W e look forward to the opportunity to collaborate on developing new technologies that can improve the efficiency and useful lifetime of solar energy systems.”
This agreement represents significant progress toward the university’s energy and climate sustainability goals.
“We are well are on the way to achieving our greenhouse gas emissions target of a 25% reduction by 2025,” said Shane Tedder, UK’s sustainability officer. “The potential emissions reductions from this project positions UK to set our sights on ambitious future targets.”
The project is also part of LG&E and KU’s long-term goal to, along with its parent company PPL Corporation, reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions across its business operations to net-zero by 2050 with interim targets of 70% reduction from 2010 levels by 2035 and an 80% reduction by 2040.
The university is in the process of updating its Sustainability Strategic Plan and resetting the goal post for emissions reduction will be part of that effort later this year.
Visit www.uky.edu/sustainability to learn more about UK’s sustainability goals and initiatives.