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EMU: Going solar


The largest deployment of solar power to date in Virginia is being brought to reality on the roof of the Sadie Hartzler Library at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg.

The project will begin producing electricity for use at EMU by mid-November, said Tony Smith, the CEO of the Staunton-based Secure Futures LLC and the co-chair of the MBA program at the university.

“We could cook a Thanksgiving dinner using the electricity generated by this project,” EMU president Loren Swartzendruber quipped at a ceremony held Thursday to mark the formal signing of the agreement between the school and Secure Futures.

EMU 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. Also according to the agreement signed on Thursday, the university agrees 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.

“This takes us into the next generation as an institution, and follows up on a long history of sustainability efforts and care for the environment at EMU,” Swartzendruber said, detailing efforts at the school dating back to the 1970s to promote environmental stewardship in facilities management and development.

The solar-energy system at Hartzler Library will have the capacity to generate 104.3 kilowatts of electricity, with enough power to supply the total average annual electricity costs for nine homes in Harrisonburg.

“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,” Smith said.

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.

With reporting by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at [email protected].



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