EMU dedicates new solar facility

Eastern Mennonite University dedicated and celebrated the largest solar photovoltaic project built so far in the state of Virginia in a public ceremony held Monday afternoonon EMU’s campus.

During the celebration in EMU’s Campus Center, about 150 members of the campus community, public officials and local neighbors saw the university’s president Loren Swartzendruber unveil the website dashboard with the flip of a switch, revealing live graphs showcasing the daily, weekly and monthly output of the solar system (http://datareadings.com/client/moduleSystem/Kiosk/site/bin/kiosk.cfm?k=uA2UjcGw).

“Caring for God’s good creation is central to who we are as a Christian university,” Dr. Swartzendruber told the gathering. “Our planet does not have unlimited natural resources, and it is imperative that we utilize clean renewable energy such as solar as part of the university’s long-term commitment to creation care and environmental sustainability,” he added.

Secure Futures, LLC of Staunton developed the project and contracted with Southern Energy Management in North Carolina to design, install and maintain the solar PV system. The installation on the roof of EMU’s Sadie Hartzler Library includes 328 high-efficiency photovoltaic panels manufactured by SunPower Corporation. The project represents the largest deployment to date of solar power in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The solar project will cut EMU’s dependence on local utilities, helping to reduce the university’s reliance on energy from coal and other fossil fuels. The reduction will eliminate more than 6,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the projected 35-year life of the solar panels. In addition, EMU will adopt today’s electrical rates over the 20-year term of its agreement with Secure Futures, protecting the university from electricity rate increases.

“While developers have built larger solar installations in other states, EMU’s solar project represents a breakthrough in the commercial scale financing of solar power, as Virginia presents a uniquely challenging electricity and policy environment,” said Secure Futures CEO Tony Smith, who also co-directs EMU’s Steward-Leadership MBA Program. “Virginia enjoys some of the lowest electricity rates in the country, and remains among a handful of states that rely exclusively on voluntary measures by utility companies to include renewable energy in their portfolio of electricity generation sources,” Dr. Smith added.

Secure Futures has formed a subsidiary Harrisonburg-based company, Community Solar, LLC, co-owned with local investors, to own and operate the project. Under a financing program embraced by colleges and universities in high solar states, EMU hosts the installation while Community Solar owns and manages the equipment, allowing EMU to gain access to on-site solar power without paying the capital cost of installing PV panels or the fees of ongoing maintenance. Community Bank, based in Staunton, provided construction financing for the project.

“Any student I’ve talked to values this sign of commitment to sustainability and creation care on campus,” said Benjamin P. Bergey, an EMU senior from Perkasie, Pa., and co-president of the Student Government Association. “It is an outward example of how our Anabaptist values affect our behavior and decisions, in the case to find alternative forms of energy. So we as students are grateful to be at a school of integrity, with consistency between words and actions,” he added.

“We believe that with the right support in place, Virginia will be in a strong position to join the ranks as a leader in sustainable energy,” said Blair Kendall, strategic business development director with Southern Energy Management based in Morrisville, N.C., which conducted the engineering and installation of the panels and will maintain them for the 20-year term of the project agreement.

Using economic stimulus funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, DMME awarded an incentive grant for the project. ARRA funds through the US Treasury 1603 Investment Tax Credit grant will also help finance the solar installation.

“With a deep commitment to clean energy, I hope that this project represents just the beginning of EMU’s work to develop solar power,” said Swartzendruber, who also announced that the university hopes to host a second, larger solar system – to be financed and operated by Community Solar – in the first half of 2011. The president invited potential investors to contact his office or Secure Futures for more information on the upcoming solar project.

Story by Jim Bishop. Jim can be reached at bishopj@emu.edu.

augusta free press news