Pitt signs agreement to purchase all the power from planned hydroelectric plant

Rendering of hydroelectric plant


In a big step toward meeting its 2030 sustainability goals, Pitt has agreed to purchase 100 percent of the power from a low-impact hydroelectric power plant to be built on the Allegheny River.

The plant — located less than 5 miles from campus at the existing Allegheny Lock and Dam No. 2 below the Highland Park Bridge — will be the first of eight potential hydroelectric facilities that Rye Development of Boston has received permits to build along the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela rivers.

“It’s a pretty exciting first step for Pitt in terms of renewables, and it’s a very unique opportunity,” said Aurora Sharrard, Pitt’s sustainability director. “The opportunity to do low-impact hydro with a local water resource is pretty unique, especially being less than 5 miles from campus.”

The plant, which was announced in October, is expected to cost $40 million to $60 million and produce 50,000 megawatt hours of power per year, which equates to 25 percent of electricity on the Oakland campus. It will be the first hydroelectric plant built on the Allegheny River in 30 years.

Sharrard said Pitt had been working with Rye for more than a year before signing the letter of intent to purchase the power. The plant is expected to open in 2022.

This investment will help Pitt to achieve its Sustainability Plan goal of 50 percent renewable energy for the campus by 2030, Greg Scott, Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for business and operations, said in a news release.

“As a research institution and community partner, we are committed to leading by example with sustainable practices that will help future generations thrive in a world that is environmentally responsible, socially equitable and economically robust,” Scott said.

Sharrard said the projected amount of hydropower is the equivalent of taking nearly 8,000 cars off the road, thereby contributing to Pitt’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030.

The project also will allow Pitt to tie in faculty and student research and learning opportunities.

The cost to Pitt over time is unknown, Sharrard said, “But I would say that this is in line with the University's existing electricity budget and the anticipated increase of that budget over time.

“The interesting thing about electricity procurement overall, and just energy procurement, is that costs, in general, are going up over time. Every user is trying to figure out how far those costs are going to go up. … What does this look like over the next 20, 30, 40 years? And how is that going to affect us? So most of what you’ll hear from anyone who has signed a power purchase agreement is that they can't talk about the cost.”

The announcement was praised by student sustainability leaders.

“Pitt students have been vocal advocates for sustainability, and I'm pleased that Pitt is listening,” said Pitt junior Sam Ressin, founder of the bipartisan climate advocacy student group Climate Stewardship Society and chair of the Pitt Green Fund, in a news release. “Taking strong action to reduce carbon emissions ensures that we will have a livable world for generations to come. I’m proud to say my university is doing its part and leading by example.”

Sharrard said it has become more and more common for universities to enter into direct power purchase agreements with renewable developers.

“By locking in a resource over a longer period of time, it actually provides a long-term cost surety for our electricity expenditures,” Sharrard said.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 412-648-4294.