CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — The largest solar microgrid in Pennsylvania, spanning 16 acres, is nearing completion.

The University Area Joint Authority began Phase 1 of the project in 2018, with 7 acres of solar panels. Now, they’re finishing an additional 9 acres and expect they will begin collecting power in mid-May.

 “It’s five megawatts, which is the largest that you can build on a single site,” said Cory Miller, executive director of the University Area Joint Authority.

The panels power the wastewater treatment plant, and it’s part of the Centre region’s initiative to go green. Solar energy reduces the need for coal powered power plants, which have a negative impact on water quality, specifically in the Chesapeake Bay.

“We’re really doing this as a water quality issue, it’s also a backup power issue for UAJA, and frankly, it saves money,” said Miller.

Over a 25 year period, UAJA is estimating to save about $10 million. It’ll also protect UAJA customers from a raise in rates.

“It will have a noticeable impact on their bills, they won’t go up, and it will also have a noticeable impact in the entire Chesapeake Bay, but also here locally,” said Miller.

Currently, the panels are owned by a private partner, a UAJA purchases the grid’s energy from that grid. Miller said, in several years they’ll have the option to purchase the panels for themselves.

“It is very likely that we will buy it because it is going to be cost effective,” said Miller.  

He added, this specific field is unique as it is a microgrid.

“A microgrid means that when West Penn Power stops providing us power because there’s a power failure, this microgrid will continue to work and provide power to the treatment plant, which is really nice because we have to have power all the time,” said Miller.

When complete, the plant will generate about 70 percent of the energy UAJA uses… all from the sun.