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Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at a COVID-19 vaccination site setup at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Berks County, on Monday.

The Wolf administration on Monday announced it has reached a deal for what state officials say will be the largest single foray into solar power by any state government.

Under the plan, Pennsylvania has agreed to buy power from seven new solar energy arrays that will generate 191 megawatts of electricity, enough energy to power half of the electricity used by government agencies, officials said Monday.

The projects will be located on about 1,800 to 2,000 acres of farmland in Snyder, Montour, Northumberland, Columbia, Juniata and York counties, said Kevin Smith, chief executive officer for the Americas at Lightsource bp.

“Pennsylvania has been a national energy leader for more than 100 years. As we continue to diversify our grid with clean renewable sources of energy, we want to maintain Pennsylvania’s leadership position,” Wolf said in announcing the plan.

The move was welcomed by environmental groups, but Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, chairman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, called the venture “embarrassing” and noted that the solar arrays will occupy far more land than natural gas plants take up to produce more power.

“Pennsylvania produces 20% of the natural gas produced in the country. That makes Pennsylvania one of the largest producers of natural gas in the world,” he said. “When are we going to stop apologizing for the abundant resources we have?”

Mark Szybist, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Pennsylvania is providing a model strategy that other states should mirror.

“Pennsylvania is showing the rest of the nation how to fight climate change, create jobs and save taxpayers money – all at the same time,” he said. “This procurement will supply roughly half of the state’s government operations with clean, home-grown energy that is insulated from price shock from natural gas and will not exacerbate the damage that fracking has already brought.”

Secretary of General Service Curt Topper said the biggest comparable projects Pennsylvania officials have been able to identify in other states only amounted to about 30 to 50 megawatts of power.

“We’re pretty confident that at 190, we’re well out in front of other state governments,” Topper said.

When completed, the total 191-megawatt project is expected to deliver 361,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year, supplying 100% of electricity for 434 accounts across 16 state agencies, or about half the electricity used by the state government, according to the governor’s office.

The solar project will create 400-plus jobs and begin lowering carbon dioxide emissions statewide by 157,800 metric tons each year, the equivalent of the emissions from nearly 27,000 homes or taking 34,000 cars off the roads, the governor’s office reported.

“We’re doing it all through the dollars that we would have spent anyway for electricity generation,” Topper said.

Under the contract, the state will be buying the solar power for 5 cents a kilowatt, said Troy Thompson, a spokesman for the Department of General Services.

“Our electricity costs will be cheaper than our last 10-year average that we paid for traditional electricity supply. We are currently benefiting from historically low electricity rates, and we will now be keeping those low rates fixed for the next 15 years,” he said.

Wolf’s Climate Change Executive Order in 2019 set a goal of lowering Pennsylvania’s greenhouse gas emissions 26% by 2025 and 80% by 2050 compared with 2005 levels.

The 2020 Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment documents that Pennsylvania’s average state temperature has climbed nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1901, and the state average annual rainfall has increased about 10%, while extreme weather events have increased. It’s projected that by mid-century, every county will be 4.9 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than in 2000, while average rainfall will continue to increase 8% to 12%, unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, according to state estimates.

John Finnerty is based in Harrisburg and covers state government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @CNHIPA.

John Finnerty is based in Harrisburg and covers state government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @CNHIPA.

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