University of Arizona partners with Tucson Electric Power to cut carbon emissions

All of the power the university purchases from TEP will be from solar or wind projects—starting in May.
Published: Apr. 22, 2021 at 5:35 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The University of Arizona and Tucson Electric Power are taking a big step together to help get closer to carbon neutrality.

The university uses as much power as 22,000 average American homes. To cut emissions by a third, come May all of the power the UA purchases from TEP will be from solar or wind projects. It’s one of the biggest university-utility partnerships in the nation.

“Our students have been demanding this for many, many years,” said Trevor Ledbetter, UA director of the Office of Sustainability. “All of our grid-based energy will be sourced from two renewable projects.”

Still, about 40 percent of the university’s power will come from natural gas it produces on its own. This agreement starts next month and locks in rates for the university for the next 20 years — saving millions in energy costs.

“It’s something that I would expect of a university of this caliber,” said Kai Lepley, a Ph.D. student at the UA.

Lepley is studying how growing plants under solar panels can help reduce emissions, improve the efficiency of the panels and help food and other types of plants grow with much-needed shade. It’s research Greg Barron-Gafford, associate professor school of geography and development, is leading.

In addition to the partnership with TEP, the university finished installing a solar panel array on top of their ENR2 building in January 2021. This panel will power about 15 percent of the building’s yearly needs and adds to the university grid. Much like the research done at the Biosphere, it will grow plants under the panels, but more annual, flowery plants for pollinators.

“We’ve got so much concrete and rooftops around here and just introducing a little bit of green brings all these benefits,” Barron-Gafford said. “This is an example of the two coming together and the synergies of one plus one can be so much more than two when we connect and put our good practices together.”

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