Courtesy of Pitt/Rye Development, LLC

On January 1st of this year, the University of Pittsburgh unveiled its 2018 sustainability plan, an ambitious set of new research and operational goals aimed at getting the massive research institution to 50% renewable power by 2030.

While Pitt has steadily made strides on water and energy conservation over the last year, on November 28th the university announced the largest and most ambitious phase of the project yet.

Starting in 2022, Pitt will purchase 25% its electricity from a new hydropower plant currently under construction just beneath the Highland Park Bridge, located five miles from campus.

“As a research institution and community partner, we are committed to leading by example with sustainable practices that will help future generations thrive in a world that is environmentally responsible, socially equitable and economically robust,” says Greg Scott, Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for business and operations.

The plant is being built by Rye Development, LLC, a Boston-based engineering firm specializing in low-impact hydroelectric energy generation. The company received approval to build the station from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in April.

Construction will begin in 2019. Rye estimates that the total cost of the plant will be around $60 million. Project leaders estimate that the construction alone will create 150 to 200 jobs.

“It’s been nearly three decades since a new hydropower facility was constructed on the Allegheny River. Pitt’s commitment to this first new source of clean, reliable energy helps set the stage for the addition of hydropower to more of the region’s existing locks and dams,”  says Rye Development CEO Paul Jacob.

The plant will take advantage of the existing Highland Park dam to create the powerful currents necessary to generate electricity. Allegheny County has more than a dozen smalls dams and reservoirs meant to control flooding along all three of our famous rivers. Jacob, along with other environmentalists, has been touting their potential for local renewable energy generation for many years.

“The university’s investment in local hydropower will benefit the campus, the region and the local economy for generations to come,” says Jacob.

In addition to generating power, Pitt plans to use the plant for a variety of research and educational activities for students studying environmental science.

Aurora Sharrard, the university’s director of sustainability, says the project is “a significant step toward meeting Pitt’s sustainability goals.”

“We’ve made great progress since 2008, already reducing our greenhouse gas emissions 22.2 percent for the 2017 fiscal year,” says Sharrard. “Since purchased electricity is the biggest contributor to the university’s greenhouse gas emissions, it remains a key target for conservation, efficiency and ongoing source changes.”

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.