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School solar farm dedicated

The Sun Tribe Solar facility near Middlesex Elementary School (above right) and St. Clare Walker Middle School now powers both schools and will save $2 million in electricity costs over 25 years.

by Tom Chillemi

Two of three Middlesex County Public Schools are now powered by solar energy; and another school solar project could be in the offing.

On August 22, 2018, Middlesex County Public Schools (MCPS) and partner Sun Tribe Solar were joined by the superintendent of Virginia Public Schools Dr. James Lane to celebrate groundbreaking success in Virginia’s transition to clean energy. The event was the dedication of a one-megawatt solar system installed by Sun Tribe Solar on land adjacent to Middlesex Elementary School and St. Clare Walker Middle School that will power both Locust Hill schools. 

The system is only the second of its kind in the Virginia public school environment. The array will completely power the two surrounding schools with an annual generation of 1.6 GWh, which is the equivalent of reducing gasoline consumption by about 134,000 gallons. 

This system breaks several records for solar projects within Virginia, according to a Sun Tribe Solar press release. The array is the largest single net-metered installation for a school in Virginia as well as the first large ground-mounted solar system for a Virginia public school. MCPS will achieve aggregate savings of over $2 million through a power purchase agreement with Sun Tribe Solar. The renewable energy will be sold through a pilot program administered by the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy and Dominion Energy at the lowest price in the program’s history, 6.84 cents per kilowatt.

Through a system called “net-metering,” any excess kilowatt-hours generated are sent to the Dominion Energy electricity grid to offset any kilowatt-hours pulled from that grid at night, explained Devin Welch, vice president of business development for Sun Tribe Solar of Charlottesville.

Only the beginning
Middlesex supervisor John Koontz, who has worked in the solar industry more than 12 years, commented, “This is only the beginning of us having major state figures, and perhaps federal, coming out and to see how we can innovate as a small rural system. We are uniquely poised to do things different and embrace innovation and change in the 21st century. While this technology is not new to me, it is new to states like Virginia and this market is opening up.”

There are two other solar facilities under construction in Middlesex—a large Dominion Energy facility near Hartfield that will open in December and another near Church View that is being surveyed.

“We were able to think out of the box and were able to respond to market conditions. We are going to save a lot of money that we can then spend on education,” said Koontz.

“In the meantime we are going to be teaching our kids we do have a responsibility to our environment and there are things that we can do that will save money and do well by the environment,” he said.

posted 08.29.2018

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