Longwood Gardens today commissioned a new, ground-mounted solar field spanning more than 10 acres at the horticultural showplace in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
One of the largest examples of clean emission-free energy in the region, the solar field produces 1.2 MW (megawatts) of power and will produce 1.5 MW when the final panels are installed in the coming weeks. The fixed-tilt, 1.5 MW solar installation will produce enough electricity to offset the usage of approximately 138 average Pennsylvania homes and reduce Longwood’s annual carbon dioxide emissions by 1,367 tons.
"We are always looking for ways to advance our sustainable practices,” said Paul Redman, Longwood Gardens Director. “It is integral to Longwood’s mission to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. We want to establish best practices and lead the way in showing communities how to live responsibly,” said Redman.
Longwood Gardens is partnering with two leading solar energy firms on the project. GroSolar of Burlington, VT is engineering and installing the grid-tied field, which consists of two arrays and more than 5,000 panels. New York-based EcogySolar owns and operates the arrays through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). Through the PPA, EcogySolar owns the solar equipment and will sell the power produced to Longwood Gardens. The panels were manufactured by Motech Americas of Delaware. In more than 90% of the materials for the project were made in the US.
Unlike many solar projects that are built on flat, gravel-covered or paved ground, Longwood is striving to create a pleasing aesthetic respectful of the Brandywine Valley landscape and community. The panels are placed on the natural undulating terrain and Longwood plans to make the most of the field’s horticultural potential. The Gardens will plant a combination of native, low-growing plant material in an effort to create a meadow-like landscape.
“We wanted to utilize our horticultural expertise and create a new landscape model for solar fields,” Redman said. “We want to show that solar fields can be beautiful as well as functional.”
Although the solar field is not located in a public area of the Gardens, Longwood’s more than 900,000 annual guests can learn about solar power in the Idea Garden, where an 18-foot tall flower-shaped solar demonstration system is installed.
The solar field joins a long list of other sustainable practices at Longwood, including model composting and pesticide-reduction programs, comprehensive recycling initiatives and increased use of LED lights. In addition, the Gardens recently began converting its fleet to alternative, hybrid or completely electric power, its Terrace Restaurant was recently named a Certified Green Restaurant and the Gardens’ electricity is provided through hydroelectric power. In addition, Longwood recently completed an eco-footprint, which has provided a quantitative measure of the Garden’s energy inputs/outputs and will help the Gardens plan strategies to reduce demand-side consumption. One far-reaching strategy already in place is Longwood’s institutional commitment to double its solar power generation to 3 MW by 2018.
Funding for the project included a PA Green Energy Works grant, using federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds and utilization a federal investment tax credit grant. In addition, EcogySolar and Longwood Gardens provided additional funding. Longwood Gardens is also appreciative of the analytical support provided by the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Delaware.