Pittsburgh, not exactly known for its sunshine, is swiftly becoming a city that embraces the myriad benefits of solar power.

Recent large installations at Hazelwood Green’s Mill 19 (the country’s largest single-slope array) and Global Links in Green Tree have shown the momentum for solar is real.

Now the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) is affirming its commitment to clean solar energy with a new 540-kilowatt solar panel installation that covers the entire roof of their North Campus building in McCandless.

It’s about efficiency, of course, but also about setting an example for students.

“Investing in solar power enables CCAC to save money while being supportive of greenhouse gas emission reductions,” says CCAC’s Vice President and Chief Facilities Officer J.B. Messer. “CCAC participates in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge as well as the Pittsburgh 2030 District, so we are committed to saving money and reducing our carbon footprint. We teach courses in alternative energy and green building, so we want to let our students know that we are not just paying lip service to our goals: we take them seriously.”

The power generated will be the equivalent of power for 90 homes. The project is projected to save $750,000 in energy costs over the next 28 years or about $27,000 per year.

There are already two solar panel arrays on CCAC buildings: 15 kilowatts at the West Hills Center and 64 kilowatts at the Allegheny Campus on the North Side.

The solar array will be installed by BAI Group of State College. Because of a Power Purchase Agreement with BAI, the college won’t have to spend its own money on the project.

A Power Purchase Agreement can be used by tax-exempt organizations to get the benefits of solar power with little to no financing upfront. A third-party investor (in this case BAI) owns and maintains the solar array, and the host site (CCAC) pays for the energy generated, usually at a much lower price than what they were paying before.

Rendering of the solar array planned for CCAC’s North Campus.

CCAC plans to use the installation as part of its classes, ranging from science and technology to business and accounting.

“More than a cost-saving measure, this 540kW solar project will serve as an educational tool that will help train the next generation of energy professionals,” says Sel Edor, market director for BAI Group’s renewables division.

The project came about with help from the Pennsylvania Solar Center, which provides technical and financial guidance to those looking to switch to solar.

“CCAC is setting a new standard in the region for smart innovation and environmental stewardship,” says Leo Kowalski, GET Solar program manager for the Pennsylvania Solar Center. “This will be CCAC’s third major solar installation, so they’ve been a longtime leader in Pittsburgh for harnessing the power of solar energy. And this time around, with the project being larger in scope and also being their first time executing a Power Purchase Agreement, we were fortunate to help guide them through the process.”