The Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors recently approved the first-ever rooftop solar power program for government facilities and school buildings throughout the county.
Included in the first wave of the proposed project is installing rooftop solar panels at 17 potential locations. Overall, the project will have a capacity of approximately 3.92 megawatts at full buildout. To put that into context, one megawatt of solar power can generate enough electricity to power between 150 to 210 homes for an entire year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
The project will be executed via a power purchase agreement with Sun Tribe, a Charlottesville based renewable energy company that provides services to schools, local governments and businesses across Virginia.
The agreement doesn’t require an upfront capital investment from the county, just a commitment to purchase the solar-generated electricity for the life of the 25-year contract. Sun Tribe will install, operate and maintain the solar panels, according to the agreement.
Clay Bowles, director of general services for Chesterfield County, said although the project is still in the early stages of planning, it’s a great partnership between Chesterfield County and Chesterfield County Public Schools.
“Part of both the county’s and school’s environmental stewardship efforts are to identify these types of renewable projects when they’re available,” Bowles said.
Sun Tribe must complete a structural analysis at each of the 17 locations to ensure that the facilities are capable of holding the weight of the solar panels, Bowles said. The analysis is expected to take six to nine months to complete. If a roof fails the inspection, the project at that location will be canceled at no penalty to either party.
In addition to clean and renewable energy, a power purchase agreement also provides ongoing energy cost savings for the county because long-term electric rates fluctuate less with solar energy compared to traditional electricity.
“The recent lease approvals prepare us for the first solar panel installations atop county facilities,” Jim Holland, chairman of the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement. “We anticipate adding more as new facilities are built or when renovations or roof repairs occur among existing buildings. Because we don’t own the panels, we avoid associated maintenance costs, and we’ll receive power from the panels, which will reduce what we pay for electricity. The solar panels will be good for the county, our citizens and the environment.”
For a building with solar panels, the average energy offset, a reduction in power need, is just under 50%. Bowles said this is expected to produce approximately $1.9 million in energy savings for facilities with solar panels. According to a presentation from Bowles, Beulah Elementary School, for example, would have an energy offset of 48% and produce a lifetime savings of $337,817.
The starting solar price will be approximately 7 cents per kilowatt-hour, about 30% cheaper than the current rate the county is paying.
Bowles said each facility would only use the energy it generates and not feed the electric grid or sell the electricity produced from its solar panels. Dominion Energy will continue to provide facilities with power as needed.
According to Sun Tribe, solar energy provides significant cost savings for schools, allowing them to invest more in students’ education. School districts across the state, including Henrico, Hanover and Powhatan counties, and the city of Richmond, now use solar energy.
Scott Carson, the director of construction at CCPS, said students will now have “visible proof” that Chesterfield and the school district are committed to a green energy future.
Another benefit, Carson said, is that Sun Tribe provides educational opportunities for students in grades K-12 through a partnership with National Energy and Educational Development, a nonprofit that promotes energy education and provides professional development for teachers and classroom resources.
“At Sun Tribe, we are proud and grateful for this opportunity to work alongside the incredible leadership in Chesterfield to unlock the financial and environmental benefits of rooftop solar across a fleet of county buildings,” said Rich Allevi, Sun Tribe’s vice president of development. “These 17 projects come with a negative price tag for taxpayers, generating savings on Day One while providing 21st-century learning opportunities for Chesterfield County students.”