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A Collaborative Plan to Go Solar in Pennsylvania’s Centre Region

| By Avery Palmer, Interstate Renewable Energy Council

Located in the heart of Pennsylvania, the Centre Region Council of Governments encompasses six municipalities, the Penn State campus, and rural farmland. It is also the latest regional organization to achieve SolSmart designation! As a SolSmart Silver designee, the Centre Region took the lead on several innovative and collaborative efforts that can be a model for other regions nationwide.

For a number of reasons, the Centre Region COG was a natural fit to become a SolSmart designee. COG reviews building plans, issues permits and provides inspections for local municipalities, which allows them to benefit from SolSmart’s technical assistance on streamlined permitting for solar projects. The Centre Region’s Go Solar page offers a wealth of resources including advice for local households who are considering solar PV installations.

In one of its standout initiatives, the Centre Region is working with 15 organizations including the municipalities, school district, and several authorities in a collaborative effort to develop a solar power purchase agreement, which would allow the organizations to obtain solar-powered electricity at competitive rates locked in for the next 25 years. After pooling their resources to work with a consultant, the partner organizations plan to issue a request for proposals in August.

Power purchase agreements typically include the construction of an entirely new solar array. This likely won’t be feasible for the Centre Region and its partners, who make up a relatively small energy footprint; in addition, solar projects are facing years-long delays as the regional grid operator PJM handles a backlog of interconnection requests. “We think we can fit in by purchasing a share of an existing developer’s array as opposed to waiting in the queue,” says Pam Adams, Sustainability Planner at the Centre Regional Planning Agency.

In the meantime, the Centre Region’s interactive dashboard shows over 200 solar projects have been installed since 2010. In late 2021, the region adopted a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, which calls for 10 percent of homes and 5 percent of local businesses to be powered by renewable energy by 2035. The Centre Region partnered with Solar United Neighbors on a popular solar co-op program to offer rooftop solar installations at discounted rates, leading to 161 kw of new solar installed. Local solar projects include a solar array and microgrid at a wastewater treatment plant, and a 108 kW solar installation on top of the new Ferguson Township public works building. Solar panels have also gone up at three local elementary schools.

The Centre Region is also taking steps to plan for large-scale solar projects in rural areas, and released a utility-scale solar toolkit with guidance for considering such projects when these opportunities arise. “We want to make sure that we are prepared if one should come into our region,” Adams says. “We looked at it to figure out how we could best balance farmland preservation but also support solar.”

Centre Region officials first learned about Solsmart from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, a regional organization in the Philadelphia area that is designated SolSmart Bronze. One of the perks of SolSmart is its extensive library of resources and checklists that give communities “a template they can work with,” Adams says, while adding that SolSmart helps foster a competitive streak with its examples of what other communities are doing.

The Centre Region is eager to take the next step in its solar energy work and pursue a higher level of SolSmart designation. Any regional organization, municipality, or county is eligible to join them as the next SolSmart designee. Learn how your community can get involved by contacting us today.