(TNS) -- The city of Pittsburgh this morning inked a deal with the U.S. Department of Energy to embark on a plan to upend the way energy is produced and consumed locally.

With U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz looking on, Mayor Bill Peduto signed a memorandum of understanding that jump starts research and develops local sources of energy. The city will partner with the National Energy Technology Laboratory, which will help guide local researchers to build on existing facilities like Duquesne University’s Combined Heat and Power facility in Uptown and modernize others.

For the past year, Mr. Peduto said, city and county officials have been discussing ways to do just that, starting with the Pittsburgh Allegheny County Thermal plant, which supplies Downtown buildings with steam heat. In those discussions, Mr. Peduto said, the concept of district energy — or producing the energy in the areas where it’s being used — emerged.

“This discussion started to expand,” Mr. Peduto said. “The Department of Energy can give us the tools we need to make this a reality.”

The signing took place at the Energy Innovation Center, a nonprofit organization housed in the sprawling former Connolley trade school on Bedford Avenue. Sandwiched between Downtown’s business district and Oakland’s academic institutions, the center would be a “logical place” to demonstrate new technology, said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills.

Mr. Moniz, after a private breakfast with a few dozen local leaders, went on a brief tour of the facility, much of which is still under renovation. Local nonprofit Pittsburgh Gateways, with the support of dozens of individual investors, put $37 million into the site.

With more than 200,000 square feet of space, the center aims to be a “living laboratory” that focuses on developing and demonstrating energy technologies that encourage the growth of renewable energy.

“Pittsburgh is one of the places that we want to bring a lot of things together, in terms of clean energy, in terms of education and training,” Mr. Moniz said in remarks after the signing. “This site has been a wonderful place to celebrate this.”

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