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Energizing Initiatives: Cornell University's Cascadilla Solar Farm

aerial photograph of Cornell University

In the heart of New York, a green initiative is taking root. Cornell University, renowned for its academic prowess, isn't only making strides in research and education; it's also becoming a beacon of sustainability that is setting an example for Universities across the nation. With the creation of the Cascadilla Solar Farm, Cornell has demonstrated its commitment to a renewable energy future. This immense community solar project not only transforms unused land into a source of clean power, but also offers a blueprint for other institutions and government property owners aiming to make a positive impact on the environment.

Cornell's Commitment to Sustainability

In January 2019, Cornell University, nestled in Dryden, NY, announced its collaboration with Solar Farms New York to establish the Cascadilla Solar Farm. The venture saw the installation of around 79,000 solar panels across 125 acres of unproductive agricultural land. This colossal project marked a significant step towards making Cornell's operations more sustainable and promoting environmental stewardship across its vast community.

The Environmental Impact: Generating Clean Energy

The Cascadilla Solar Farm's environmental impact is profound. With a total output of 18 megawatts, it has the capacity to power over 3,000 homes, reducing carbon emissions equivalent to taking more than 2,500 cars off the road each year. This considerable shift towards green energy aligns with New York State's ambitious renewable energy targets and positions Cornell as a leader in the transition to a cleaner and more secure energy system.

Integrating Sustainability into the Academic Framework

Beyond electrifying homes, the project seamlessly integrates into Cornell's academic mission. The University views the Cascade Solar Farm as a living laboratory, inviting students and researchers to explore the dynamics of solar energy production and environmental management. By fostering this connection between practical application and intellectual inquiry, Cornell is poised to drive innovation and influence the future of sustainable technologies.

Blueprint for Success in Government Solar Projects

What insights can government property owners glean from Cornell's venture? The success of the Cascadilla Solar Farm points to key considerations and best practices that can guide other large institutions through their own renewable energy journeys.

Site Selection and Land Utilization

One of the initial hurdles in any solar project is finding the right location. The Cornell solar initiative highlights the potential of repurposing underutilized government-owned land for renewable energy endeavors. The choice to convert non-productive farmland into a solar farm not only minimizes the environmental impact but also optimizes land use, it converts this underutilized property into an asset.

Financial Planning and Sourcing

The financial aspects of a solar project are complex but manageable with careful planning. Cornell's approach involved a mix of private investment and government incentives, creating a sustainable funding model. According to Rick Burgess, Vice President of Facilities at Cornell University, the project doubles the offsets (energy credits) from 10 to 20 percent. Cornell University is also generating revenue from solar lease payments paid annually by the solar developer. University property owners seeking to emulate this success will benefit from researching available grants, tax incentives, and power purchase agreements that can help offset initial costs and ensure long-term financial viability.

Community Engagement and Support

A project of this magnitude does not operate in isolation. Cornell had already reduced its carbon footprint 36 percent since 2008 prior to the Cascadilla solar project by developing relationships with community partners and developers to promote renewable energy and create regional low-carbon strategies. Not only does Cornell University benefit from revenue production from solar lease payments, the local community benefits from more affordable electricity. Under New York’s new community solar program, the farms sell their electricity to NYSEG; in turn, customers pay Solar Farms New York for electricity, saving at least 5 percent on their electric bill.

The Cascadilla Solar Farm emphasizes the significance of community engagement and support. From landowners to local residents, Cornell made concerted efforts to inform and involve stakeholders, addressing concerns and fostering a sense of shared benefit. This community partnership approach can be a model for government property owners to gain local buy-in and build broader support for renewable energy initiatives.

Shining a Light on Sustainability through Leasing University Property

Cornell's Cascadilla Solar Farm is an inspiration for action. It demonstrates that large-scale solar projects are not only possible but also economically and environmentally advantageous. By sharing its story and insights, Cornell encourages other government property owners to take the leap into solar energy, fostering a collective effort to combat climate change. The Cascade Solar Farm at Cornell University is a testament to the potential of solar energy and the power of collective action. It serves as a powerful example for government property owners, illustrating how dedication, innovation, and strategic partnerships can lead to impactful environmental solutions.

As we look towards a future increasingly defined by the need for sustainability, the lessons learned from projects like Cascade Solar Farm are invaluable. By following in Cornell's footsteps, other institutions can play their part in building a cleaner, greener world for generations to come. Government property owners that are interested in contributing to clean energy generation can lease their underutilized land for solar energy, leading to revenue generation and clean energy production benefits. By listing on LandGate’s marketplace, government property owners can get their property in front of a robust network of renewable energy developers actively using LandGate's platform to source new sites and plan upcoming projects. There are no fees, and there is no requirement to accept any offers that are received through the listing.


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