Buffalo-Niagara region wants to lead – again – on renewable energy

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Fourteen years after Alexandre Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect in 1839, the city of Buffalo, New York, pioneered its own renewable energy revolution, harnessing the power of Niagara Falls to provide electricity to the city in conjunction through the Niagara Power Project.

Once the Second Industrial Revolution began in earnest, hydropower and Great Lakes access fueled Buffalo’s rise as a steel and automotive hub. But the de-industrialization of the Great Lakes region hit the city hard, leaving brownfields and abandoned industrial sites as far as the eyes can see.

Now, however, thanks to a partnership between the University of Buffalo and New York state, the remnants of that industrial past will be used to power a renewable energy renaissance in the area, with plans to build 100 MW of solar plants throughout the city.

The plan, called Localizing Buffalo’s Renewable Energy Future, hopes to put 100 MW of PV installations throughout the city by 2020. Instead of building just one massive project, Localizing Buffalo wants to build projects of various sizes throughout the city, turning some of the city’s most unsightly former industrial sites into solar showcases.

“The problem with commodities like coal and gas that are extracted is they have peaks and valleys in price. With renewable energy, we know exactly what it will cost for a long period of time,” said Tonga Pham, UB’s associate vice president for university facilities. “Renewable energy allows you to lock in a fixed rate for 15 to 20 years because you’re not at the whim of the commodities market.”

The city of Buffalo, Erie County and the university itself will be among the group of businesses and other city institutions buying the power from the installations, which are expected to produce enough power to meet approximately 50% of their energy use of all the participants.

The proposal earned $1 million last year from New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Energy to Lead program, which is part of the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) Campus Challenge, an initiative sponsored by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

It’s also worth noting that Tesla has started producing Panasonic’s HIT solar modules at its Gigafactory in the city.