EMU Signs Agreement to Build Va.’s Largest Solar Panel Array

Posted below is a news release from Eastern Mennonite University marking the formal announcement that the university will be proceeding with plans to install solar panels on the library roof. This effort, led by Tony Smith, the co-director of EMU’s MBA program, was first announced last spring. In April, the city council approved a rezoning to allow the construction of the project.

At the time, Smith and his colleagues hoped to install enough panels on campus to generate 1 megawatt of power. Over the summer, a number of factors prompted the university to scale back the solar project. The first phase, which began this week, will generate 104.3 kilowatts with panels on the library roof, and will still be the largest solar array in the state. The university plans a second round of construction to install panels on canopies above a parking lot, adding another 300 kilowatts of capacity.


Release by Eastern Mennonite University

EMU President Loren Swartzendruber (l) and Dr. Tony Smith, Secure Futures CEO and co- director of EMU's MBA program, sign agreement documents for the solar energy project to move forward on campus. Projected completion for the initial phase is mid-November. Photo by Jim Bishop

Secure Futures, LLC, a solar energy developer, announced Sept. 22 that it has signed an agreement with Eastern Mennonite University to install a solar photovoltaic array on the roof of EMU’s main library.

The system, scheduled for installation in October and November, 2010, will have the capacity to generate 104.3 kilowatts of electricity, making it the largest solar project in Virginia, with enough power to supply the total average annual electricity costs for nine homes in Harrisonburg. During construction of the library roof solar array, Secure Futures will seek additional investors to help complete the financing for a second solar array consisting of 300 kW of solar panels on raised solar canopies above the north parking lot of EMU’s University Commons.

EMU has entered into a 20-year power purchase agreement to buy the solar-generated electricity at a “grid-parity” price equivalent to the rate that EMU pays for power from its current provider, the Harrisonburg Electric Commission.

“This solar project represents good stewardship of the university’s financial resources and the Earth’s natural resources,” said EMU President Loren Swartzendruber. “It will also offer a highly visible case study for our students and our community about the pragmatic benefits of clean renewable energy,” he added.

As part of the innovative business model, EMU has agreed to pay in advance for 10 years of the guaranteed solar electricity output at the outset of the project, which reduces project financing costs. In return, Secure Futures will pass savings back to EMU as an annual credit.

When complete, the installation on the roof of EMU’s Hartzler Library of 328 high-efficiency photovoltaic panels manufactured by the SunPower Corporation will represent the largest deployment to date of solar power in the Commonwealth of Virginia. According to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, the second largest solar project in the state is currently the 84 kW solar installation at the Merrifield Post Office in Northern Virginia.

“EMU is demonstrating that solar power represents a good financial and social investment – doing good and doing well,” said Secure Futures CEO Anthony E. (Tony) Smith, who also co-directs EMU’s Stewardship MBA Program. “This solar project will cut EMU’s usage and peak demand energy costs and thus reducing its reliance on power generated by coal and other fossil fuels. It will also eliminate more than 6,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the projected 35-year life of the solar panels,” Dr. Smith added.

“This is exactly the kind of project we want to encourage across the Commonwealth to move toward a sustainable energy future,” said Ken Jurman, renewable energy manager for the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME). Using economic stimulus funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, DMME awarded an incentive grant for the project.

The entire system – solar panels, inverters, conduits and monitoring equipment – will be installed and maintained by Southern Energy Management. Based in Morrisville, N.C., SEM is one of the largest solar integrators in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, and has worked on other local solar projects in Virginia. Community Bank, based in Staunton, is providing construction financing for the project. Secure Futures has formed a subsidiary company to be co-owned with investors from the Harrisonburg community and elsewhere, Community Solar, LLC, to develop and operate the project.

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  1. says

    I’m excited for this project as well. EMU is taking a leadership role and paving the way for other businesses and institutions and homeowners to add solar panels to their property. I look forward to seeing them installed.

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