Philly program to power its buildings by solar faces setback
Christine Knapp, the city’s director of sustainability, said the pandemic is one factor contributing to delays of what would be one of the state’s largest solar farms and erected solely for the city.
Originally, Philadelphia aimed to start generating a fifth of the electrical power for its buildings by solar on farmland near Gettysburg by October or soon afterward, but the ambitious effort launched in late 2018 has stalled and not yet broken ground.
Christine Knapp, the city’s director of sustainability, said the pandemic is one factor contributing to delays of what would be one of the state’s largest solar farms being erected more than 100 miles to the west of the city.
“As with many projects, COVID-19 has caused a delay in the start of construction," Knapp said in an email. "We are working with the project developers to establish new time frames, which we will share once confirmed.”
Although Gov. Tom Wolf lifted the temporary ban on construction May 1, Knapp said, the pandemic created other issues nationally “at all levels of the supply chain and process.”
The original legislation and agreement announced in November 2018 called for a 70-megawatt solar array to be erected on farmland in Straban Township, Adams County, with a target date of Oct. 31, 2020, unless unforeseen circumstances arose. If so, the target date was to be pushed back to April 30, 2021.
A new target date has been set for May 2021, but it’s not clear if that will be met.
The initial agreement was between Philadelphia and Adams Solar LLC, which would build the array. In return, the city would buy electricity at $44.50 per megawatt hour for 20 years from Adams Solar.
The plan was part of the city’s goal to power 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and the long-term rate was to protect it from price increases. The Philadelphia Energy Authority would purchase the energy for the city under the deal. Adams Solar, originally formed by Community Solar of Radnor, would hire businesses owned by minorities, women, and those with disabilities as subcontractors.
The electricity was to be used to power a portion of city-owned buildings such as City Hall, Philadelphia International Airport, and the Water Department.
Plans called for solar panels to be mounted on tracking units that move with best available light and connect to the regional transmission grid coordinated by PJM Interconnection. Since there’s no way to send electricity directly to Philadelphia from Adams County, Philadelphia would take market ownership of the electricity, which would be delivered to Peco territory. The energy would not be generated for residential or commercial use.
The Energy Authority went out to bids earlier this year for subcontracting firms and named Engie as lead contractor. Knapp said Engie has taken over the Adams Solar project from Community Energy.
“Community Energy was the developer of the project, and as is the case with all of their projects, they then sell the project to an owner/operator, which was allowable and expected within our contract,” Knapp wrote in an email. “Engie is the company that purchased the project and is responsible for building and maintaining the array.”
Knapp referred questions about the status of land-lease deals needed to erect the arrays to Matthew Moonie, director of business develop at Engie North America. Moonie, however, deferred to the city for comments.
Records show the Straban Township Planning Commission gave conditional approval to the project in November 2019 and noted that Adams Solar was time-pressed to get the township to sign off or face losing $4 million in renewable-energy tax credits.
The Adams Solar project involves 16 parcels of land, which had to be negotiated with at least seven owners of properties located about three miles from Gettysburg. Planning Commission meeting minutes said the project detailed 123 acres of panels.
The Planning Commission’s offices were closed Friday, and a representative could not be reached for comment on the status of the plan.