The University of Arizona has partnered with Tucson Electric Power, or TEP, to provide its campus with enough clean, emission-free power from new solar, storage and wind systems to serve all its purchased power needs.
“We made a commitment to become a more sustainable campus, and now we have in place a system that will make a significant impact in just two years,” says UA President Robert C. Robbins, who made sustainability a key initiative in the recently announced strategic plan.
“I believe it is up to higher education institutions to lead the way on clean energy solutions. This university is already a leader in environmental and sustainability research, and we found a partner in TEP that shares our commitment to make effectual change. We have a forward-looking team to make these changes a rapid reality.”
The UA is part of the University Climate Change Coalition, or UC3, which is committed to reducing climate-changing emissions and improving research on climate change policy across its 20 member universities in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
If the agreement with TEP is approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission, the UA will be the largest research university in the country to have a plan in place to offset the entirety of its Scope 2 emissions. Scope 2 emissions are greenhouse gases that result from the generation of electricity, heat or steam purchased from a utility provider.
“We’re proud to support the ambitious renewable energy goals of President Robbins and the University of Arizona, which are consistent with our own aspirations,” says TEP President and CEO David G. Hutchens. “We’re working together with our customers to build a sustainable energy future for our community.”
TEP expects to provide more than 28% of its power from renewable resources in 2021, nearly doubling the 2025 goal for the state of Arizona.
Under the agreement, TEP will dedicate portions of two new renewable energy projects to serving the UA’s energy needs, including a wind farm in New Mexico and a solar-plus-storage system southeast of Tucson.
The Wilmot Energy Center will include a 100-megawatt solar array and a 30-megawatt energy storage system, each the largest of its kind on TEP’s local energy grid. The system will include approximately 314,000 solar panels on 1,130 acres near South Swan Road and East Old Vail Connection Road. Construction is planned to begin in January, and the system is expected to be online by December 2020.
The Oso Grande Wind Project will generate up to 247 megawatts for the university and other TEP customers. The project will include 61 highly efficient turbines installed on 24,000 acres southeast of Roswell, New Mexico. TEP expects construction to begin later this year, and the system also should be in service by the end of 2020.
The agreement provides the university with affordable access to energy from those two systems for 20 years.
“We have been researching a way to implement 100% green energy, and this deal gets us there in one fell swoop,” says UA Assistant Vice President of Facilities Management Chris Kopach. “This project provides capacity for consistent and reliable power with capacity for decades of growth in Tucson and on campus — the kind of capacity needed by a Research 1 university.”
TEP also is working with climate experts at the UA Institute of the Environment to develop measurable, science-based carbon-reduction targets to help guide its long-term resource development plans.
“This exciting project is consistent with the impactful cross-disciplinary research and teaching taking place at the University of Arizona,” says UA Office of Sustainability Director Trevor Ledbetter. “Southern Arizona is one of the fastest warming areas in America, and anything we do to slow it down helps us at home. It is our responsibility to be a leader in this space and to do so alongside our community, and this project is a significant step in the right direction.”
The university and TEP have a long history of working together to expand educational opportunities and promote renewable energy. The Solar Zone at Tech Parks Arizona — one of the largest multitechnology solar demonstration sites in the U.S. — is a joint venture by TEP, the university and solar developers. TEP also collaborates with scientists in the UA Institute for Energy Solutions to test solar panels, experiment with different technologies and develop techniques to test batteries for storing energy.