Embracing the Sun: BMC Moves Closer to a Carbon-Neutral Campus with a Unique Solar Partnership

Boston Medical Center took a major step toward a carbon-neutral campus with an innovative solar purchase and partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Post Office Square Redevelopment Corporation.

The agreement, announced in October 2016, enabled the construction of Summit Farms, 650-acre, 60-megawatt solar installation on farmland in North Carolina. Summit Farms is the largest renewable-energy project ever built in the U.S. through an alliance of diverse buyers and serves as a partnership model for other organizations working to mitigate climate change. The solar farm began delivering power into the mid-Atlantic grid in January 2017.

The solar purchase is equivalent to 100 percent of BMC’s projected electric consumption, making BMC the greenest hospital in Boston and on pace to become the first carbon-neutral hospital in New England by 2020.

While 41 potential renewable-energy projects were evaluated by MIT, BMC, and Post Office Square Redevelopment Corporation — some of which were much closer to the Boston area — the North Carolina installation had a number of significant advantages. It uses a larger area of land than was available in the Northeast, and the local companies handling the design and installation of the solar panels have a proven track record of building and operating similar facilities.

In addition, the existing power grid in North Carolina has significantly higher greenhouse-gas emissions than in New England, because more of the mid-Atlantic’s energy comes from coal-fired plants. This means that more emissions will be displaced by Summit Farms than for a similar facility built in the Northeast.

MIT committed to buying 73 percent of the power generated by the new solar array, with BMC purchasing 26 percent and Post Office Square purchasing the remainder. MIT’s purchase of 44 megawatts is among the largest publicly announced purchases of solar energy by any American college or university, and the largest among academic institutions in the eastern U.S.

"This is the right thing to do for the quality of life and health of our patients and our planet."

The partnership that enabled this project was managed by the Boston-based organization A Better City, of which MIT, BMC, and Post Office Square are all members. CustomerFirst Renewables designed, structured, and led the negotiation of the energy solution. The design, construction, and operation of Summit Farms has been handled by Dominion, a Virginia-based energy company, which will own the facility and assume responsibility for the project’s full cost — with financing made possible by the guaranteed power purchase.

The project takes the form of a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) between the three Boston-area institutions and Dominion. In aggregate, the expected 146 gigawatt-hours of emissions-free power per year will result in the abatement of 119,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions — the equivalent of removing 25,250 cars from the road.

"Boston Medical Center is proud to join MIT and the Post Office Square Redevelopment Corporation in this historic renewable-energy agreement,” says Robert Biggio, vice president of facilities and support services at BMC. "This is the right thing to do for the quality of life and health of our patients and our planet."