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Solar project near Gettysburg to power Philly buildings is half finished

Aug 20, 2023

A large solar project begun five years ago under Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is about halfway complete on farmland 100 miles away and could start providing more than one-fifth of the power consumed by city-owned buildings by year’s end.

“A large chunk of the array has already been completed,” Dom McGraw, Philadelphia’s deputy director of municipal energy services, said recently. “The panels are up, and they look great.”

The 80-megawatt project, known as Adams Solar, could start producing power by the end of 2023, McGraw said.

City-owned buildings — including City Hall, Philadelphia International Airport, and the water department — would get 22% of their electricity from the array. In return, the city will buy electricity at $44.50 per megawatt hour for 20 years from Energix Renewables, the solar developer, at a rate established when the project was proposed in 2018.

Under such agreements, the electricity produced by the array sprawled across 700 acres in Straban Township, Adams County, Pennsylvania, won’t flow directly to Philly. Rather, Philadelphia has agreed to purchase power sent to the regional electric grid from the array. PJM, the grid operator, would deliver the electricity to Peco territory.

The array being built by Arlington, Va.-based Energix Renewables rests on farmland about three miles from Gettysburg.

Kenney originally announced the effort in 2018, with a goal of supplying energy by 2020 or 2021 as part of a climate change strategy. The plan was part of the city’s goal to power 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

The energy produced by the array would not be generated for residential or commercial use but distributed among city buildings and assets.

The project has had a few setbacks. Development began under Adams Solar LLC, originally formed by Community Energy of Radnor, which planned to hire businesses owned by people of color, women, and those with disabilities as subcontractors. The plan called for Community Energy to then turn around and sell the project to an owner/operator.

Progress was halted by the pandemic, and the project’s site plan didn’t get final approval by the Straban Township Planning Commission until January. Construction took place around bird migration schedules, and possible impact on an endangered bat species had to be considered.

Katie Hernandez, a spokeswoman for Energix, said plans call for 230,000 panels to be installed, with about 80,000 in so far. About 50% of the entire project is complete, she said.

“Energix is excited to work with the City of Philadelphia. They have been a great partner to us,” Hernandez said Wednesday in an email. “Project construction is advancing according to schedule. We anticipate the project to be completed in December 2023.”

She said almost all other necessary equipment, such as the racks that support the panels and electrical cables, are mostly installed or should be installed within the next few months. Energix also had to close deals on roughly 25 properties spanning 1,200 acres and acquire local and state permits.

Hernandez said the panels were acquired through a partnership with Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar, which she said is the only American solar panel manufacturer and recycler listed as among the world’s top 10 module providers.

“We are proud to support an American manufacturer with a 24-year track record of product safety and reliability,” Hernandez said.