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Cornell paves the way for renewable energy in New York State

Sarah Carson, director of the Campus Sustainability Office, enjoys watching sheep graze under a solar array at one of Cornell’s solar farms.

Cornell currently meets about 20% of its electric demand through solar projects and the campus hydroelectric plant. By 2027, the university will be positioned to meet 100% of its electrical needs through renewable generation.

Cornell has agreements for two more large-scale solar projects in New York State to purchase the power that they generate. Planned to start in 2027, these projects combine with existing solar and hydro resources to make as much renewable electricity as the campus uses.

What few people realize is that Cornell has played a pivotal role in paving the way for renewable energy projects in the state. For more than a decade, Sarah Carson, director of the Campus Sustainability Office, and her colleagues have advocated for the policy changes necessary to make solar projects economically and logistically viable in New York.

“I think we really kicked down the door for renewable energy generation from the voluntary market in the state,” she says.

In 2012 Sarah petitioned the state’s Public Utilities Commission to allow Cornell’s first solar farm to interconnect to the electric grid—and this successful decision has since been dubbed ‘the Cornell Ruling.’

“That ruling really paved the way for all of the community solar and the distributed scale solar that's out there now,” she notes.  “I think that we've had to do something like that for every renewable project that we've built, whether it was changing the local zoning or pushing for statewide market mechanisms to help displace fossil fuels. Cornell has done a lot of the work behind the scenes that's made these things possible.”