Facilities Engineering Institute helps Commonwealth of Pennsylvania source solar


By Danica Laub

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is leading by example to reduce carbon emissions, thanks in part to the work of the Penn State Facilities Engineering Institute (PSFEI) energy team — the commonwealth’s long-time energy consultants.

As recently announced by Gov. Tom Wolf, 50% of the commonwealth’s electricity will come from the Pennsylvania Project to Utilize Light and Solar Energy (PULSE) — a solar energy program consisting of seven new arrays to be built around the state. The Pennsylvania Department of General Services contracted with Constellation, a leading competitive energy provider and electric generation supplier, to facilitate the program. Located in six counties, the solar arrays — to be built, owned and operated by Lightsource bp — will provide 100% electricity to 434 accounts across 16 Pennsylvania state agencies, including nine agencies currently served by PSFEI.

“This is an exciting time for both PSFEI and our energy clients,” said Devin Pennebaker, PSFEI energy procurement manager. “This solar contract will help the commonwealth make tremendous strides as it works to satisfy the requirements outlined by the executive order Gov. Wolf signed in 2019 to address climate change and promote energy conservation.”

As subject matter experts in the field of energy management, members of the PSFEI energy team prepared and presented solar requirement recommendations and pricing packages to commonwealth personnel for review.

In addition to energy management, PSFEI provides facilities engineering services and education programs to Pennsylvania state agencies, the federal government and nonprofit organizations.

“PSFEI played an instrumental role in the commonwealth breaking new ground in the solar power purchase agreements (PPA) world by developing a solicitation for large-scale, in-state solar that supplies over 400 individual accounts across a dozen state agencies,” said Julien Gaudion, deputy secretary of property and asset management for the Pennsylvania Department of General Services. “They provided on-the-spot analysis of the solar offers, allowing our internal team to easily compare and contrast prices that were submitted by suppliers. Moving forward, there will not be extra billing, or a clunky exchange of bulk funds, as is required with traditional wholesale PPAs.”

Based on historical data compiled by PSFEI, it is estimated that — when completed — Pennsylvania PULSE will provide approximately 50% of the commonwealth’s annual electricity consumption. According to the PSFEI energy team’s calculations, the contracted rate for solar electricity is very competitive to current rates for the traditional grid power.

“Not only are the rates competitive, the contracted supply term provides fixed rates for 15 years, but the accounts will also be subject to a market-based rate, which is renewed every three to five years,” Pennebaker added.

Going forward, PSFEI will continue to provide the commonwealth with ongoing contract maintenance. However, Pennebaker anticipates a smooth operation as Pennsylvania makes the transition.

“We designed it so that it wasn’t this kind of paradigm shift for the commonwealth, where they would need to significantly alter their procurement strategy or process,” said Kevin Dean, PSFEI energy management consultant. “It basically integrates seamlessly into what they are currently doing and adheres to the commonwealth’s goals of risk mitigation and administrative efficiency.”

According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency statistics, the shift to 50% solar energy will help the commonwealth avoid 157,800 metric tons of carbon dioxide — the equivalent of taking more than 34,000 fuel-burning cars off the road each year, removing electricity emissions from more than 26,700 homes or charging 20 billion cell phones.

Pennsylvania PULSE is scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 2023. Under the contract, the commonwealth will source solar electricity through the end of 2037.

PSFEI currently provides energy management services for the Department of Agriculture, Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, Department of Corrections, Department of General Services, Department of Human Services, Department of Military Veterans Affairs, PA Department of Transportation, PA Historical & Museum Commission and PA Liquor Control Board. A full list of PSFEI clients may be found on the PSFEI website.


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Megan Lakatos


“PSFEI played an instrumental role in the commonwealth breaking new ground in the solar power purchase agreement (PPA) world by developing a solicitation for large scale in-state solar that supplies over 400 individual accounts across a dozen state agencies.”
—Julien Gaudion, deputy secretary of Property and Asset Management for the Department of General Services