By Brad Swanson:
Fairfax County will seek bids shortly to install solar panels at more than 200 school and government buildings, aiming to decrease electric costs and curb greenhouse emissions.
Solar panel installers will be asked to propose terms for “power purchase agreements” (PPAs) under which they will install panels and supporting equipment — at their own expense– at sites and then sell the electricity back to the buildings’ owners at agreed-upon rates. The panels will be mounted either on rooftops or the ground.
The county government now pays an average of 9.5 cents/kilowatt from Dominion Energy and hopes to improve that rate significantly – with no capital expenditure. “It’s a win-win,” said Kambiz Agazi, the county’s environmental and energy coordinator and point of contact for the project.
The project aims to expand school and government use of solar power by an estimated 5-15 megawatt hours (MWh) from a negligible base today. While that still represents a small amount of total usage, officials hope it will demonstrate the potential for renewable energy generation from publicly owned assets – and encourage private sector adoption of solar energy.
“This is a big change,” said Pat Hynes, school board member from Hunter Mill District. “The first time the school system, or the county, has committed to large scale renewable energy. Elected people on both sides understand that this is a priority for the community. We work with kids, we care about kids, and our kids care about this.”
Of the almost 500 buildings and facilities owned by the county government and Fairfax County Public Schools, almost half were deemed eligible for the program –159 school and 75 county sites, for a total of 234. Many of those not included have older rooftops needing replacement or renovation during the multi-year period of the PPAs. In addition, contractors will be allowed to exclude some of the potential sites in their proposals.
With this program, Fairfax is catching up to neighboring counties — both Montgomery County and Arlington Public Schools have PPA programs.
The request for proposals is slated to be issued in late spring, with electricity generation beginning a few months later.
“We all must do our part to address the climate crisis,” commented Scott Peterson, co-founder of Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, an interdenominational organization of 60 congregations in northern Virginia active in promoting solutions to climate change. “By embracing solar energy, Fairfax County government and our public schools can serve as role models to the private sector and all our citizens. Our young people will also see that steps are being taken to protect their future. This is a major step forward.”
Main photo: Some Fairfax County schools may soon sprout solar panels on their rooftops, like Discovery Elementary School in neighboring Arlington. Photo courtesy of VMDO Architects
Brad Swanson is the editor of The Blue View. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org