Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) will be the first public school division in Virginia to enter into a Power Purchase Agreement after reaching a formal agreement with Staunton, Va. based solar development firm Secure Futures LLC to install solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays on six public schools in Albemarle County. (View the original Press Release Here)
The six arrays will use more than 3,000 solar panels with a combined generation capacity of just over 1 Megawatt (MW) DC, and will enable the school division to generate enough electricity to power an estimated 14 percent of the electricity requirements for the six schools – equivalent to the annual electricity requirements of 125 average U.S. homes.
This week’s formal agreement was foreshadowed by the testimony of a dozen Sutherland students before the State Corporation Commission in 2014 regarding their support for increasing renewable energy in Dominion Virginia Power’s future generation portfolio.
As part of a class assignment, the sixth graders researched and developed presentations on the merits of a wide variety of alternative energy sources, including solar power. With some gentle prodding from their mathematics teacher, Rachel Benham, the students transformed their work into crisp and powerful statements of support for alternative energy sources.
“We all are very proud of the work and determination of our students,” Ms. Benham said. “Not only was their academic research and analysis exceptional in its depth but they learned a valuable lesson about citizen participation in decisions by government.”
Under the terms of the contract with Secure Futures will finance, install and operate the solar arrays at Albemarle and Monticello high schools, Sutherland middle school and at three elementary schools, Baker-Butler, Brownsville and Greer. The school division will purchase the electricity generated by the solar arrays, saving an estimated $80,000 over the life of the Power Purchase Agreement.
“Power Purchase Agreements are valuable tools for public and non-profit institutions to utilize zero-emitting, solar power to supplement their energy usage with little to no upfront capital costs,” said Governor Terry McAuliffe. “Embracing tools such as these will help grow the solar and renewable industries in Virginia and help build the new Virginia economy. I applaud the leadership of the Albemarle County Public School District and their students and congratulate them on this exciting announcement.”
Permitted by the state legislature in 2013, PPAs allow schools and other non-profit organizations to benefit from tax incentives provided to third-party suppliers such as Secure Futures. The purpose is to make it feasible to grow the solar power industry in Virginia.
“Public school divisions are ideal candidates for this kind of initiative and we congratulate Albemarle County Public Schools for leading the way forward,” said Dr. Tony Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer of Secure Futures. “While the division will significantly shrink its environmental footprint in the community and reduce its energy budget, just as important will be the opportunity students will have to learn about renewable energy in a highly practical way,” he said.
That is a point emphasized by Lindsay Snoddy, the school division’s environmental program manager. “We are excited that part of our agreement includes student workshops on alternative energy,” she said. She also noted that solar arrays will not be a new concept to the division. Since 2012, the school division has operated a solar photovoltaic 42- kilowatt system at Henley Middle School. The program was funded by a grant through the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.
Based in large part on the Henley project and the ENERGY STAR certification earned by 23 of the division’s 25 school buildings, Albemarle County Public Schools received the Virginia School Board Association’s highest environmental award in 2013.