After the installation of new solar arrays on two campus structures, Washington and Lee will boast the largest such project in Virginia.
By Duncan Adams
Photos by Stephanie Klein-Davis | The Roanoke Times
A Washington and Lee parking garage has more than 500 new solar panels that generate some 120 kilowatts at peak performance. In combination with the larger solar array on the roof of the law school, the energy produced will provide about 3 percent of the university’s electricity needs.
Grant Gotlinger with Got Electric of Gaithersburg, Md., installs solar panels on a parking garage at Washington and Lee University. Gotlinger said his small company has doubled in size over the past two years because of interest in solar power.
Washington and Lee University’s solar panels are being installed through a lease agreement with Secure Futures of Staunton. School officials said the array is the largest project of its kind in the state and will place it among the top 10 private schools in the nation for the use of solar power.
LEXINGTON — Two separate arrays, one atop Lewis Hall and another that looms over Washington and Lee University’s parking deck, deploy a total of 1,572 high-efficiency photo-voltaic panels aimed to soak in the sun and convert the solar energy to electricity.
The systems, owned by Staunton-based Secure Futures LLC and installed by contractors during the past two months, could begin supplying power to the private university before the year’s end.
Scott Beebe, W&L’s director of facilities management, said the university’s leased arrays now constitute the state’s largest solar photo-voltaic project — providing enough electricity to theoretically supply the average annual electricity needs for 44 homes in Lexington.
Or, more relevantly, enough juice to power Lewis Hall, host to the law school, and, separately, the parking deck, which has lights, exhaust fans and elevators. Anything left over will provide power for neighboring buildings, Beebe said.
Estimates suggest the solar arrays will cover about 3 percent of the university’s electricity needs. Last year W&L spent about $1.65 million on electricity it purchased from Dominion Virginia Power, Beebe said, for an average of 7 cents per kilowatt hour.
Beebe said the university is in the process of finalizing the lease agreement with Secure Futures for a 20-year term on the two structures. He would not disclose terms of the agreement but said the combination of the scheduled output from the array and the potential value of renewable energy credits made the contract a viable economic option for W&L.
He and university officials say the impressive arrays represent more than just an effort to generate power at a predictable price.
“We are demonstrating to our students the sustainable efforts of the university,” Beebe said.
And the parking deck’s high visibility also will offer visitors evidence of W&L’s commitment to be a more sustainable campus, he said.
In early August, when W&L first announced the deal with Secure Futures, a news release quoted Kenneth Ruscio, the university’s president. He said the arrangement provided “another instance of how we are aligning our institutional practices with what we preach to our students about their duties as responsible citizens and their obligations to future generations.”
Lewis Hall supports the larger array. The 1,032 photo-voltaic panels there, manufactured by SunPower Corp., will offer at peak performance a generation capacity of 330 kilowatts. The parking garage’s 540 panels, made by Sanyo, will have a capacity to generate 120 kilowatts.
In Harrisonburg, Eastern Mennonite University hosts what reportedly was once the state’s largest solar photo-voltaic deployment, with a 104-kilowatt installation on the roof of the Hartzler Library. As at W&L, Secure Futures owns and operates the Eastern Mennonite installation through a subsidiary.
Ken Jurman, renewable energy program manager with the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, said in an email that the EMU project has recently been eclipsed by two projects — 160-kilowatt and 170-kilowatt parking deck canopies — at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
Jurman confirmed that W&L’s combined arrays will take the lead as the state’s largest project, adding he was not aware of a larger project in the works.
On Nov. 30, workers from Got Electric, based in Gaithersburg, Md., were installing photo-voltaic panels atop a steel canopy erected at the university’s parking deck. Grant Gotlinger said his small contracting company has found a niche in solar work and that he has recently hired seven people.
“We’ve doubled in size in the last two years because of solar,” Gotlinger said.
Meanwhile, W&L has taken on other sustainability initiatives across campus, including, among other efforts, composting, focusing on using local and organic foods, emphasizing energy conservation, using fewer resources and generating less waste.
Beebe said his research suggests W&L falls within the top 10 percent of private schools nationally for the combined size of its solar arrays.