Implementing solar power on a college or university campus is quite a challenge – especially for institutions that lack the expertise and resources to traverse a path filled with regulatory considerations, technical designs and existing laws that govern solar energy.
To address this challenge, Shenandoah University is one of 15 Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia (CICV) member schools that will participate in the Solar Market Pathway for Independent Colleges of Virginia (SMP-ICV) program through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative.
“Adding renewable sources to our energy portfolio is one way to reduce our impact on our natural environment, and it further indicates our commitment to the stewardship of that environment,” said Shenandoah University President Tracy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D. “We are honored to be part of this group of forward-thinking institutions.”
CICV has been awarded more than $807,000 in federal funding from the SunShot Initiative to help 15 member schools, all private nonprofit colleges in Virginia, develop comprehensive plans for implementing solar power on their campuses.
“The SunShot Initiative presents an opportunity to work as a team to effectively make progress in an area that is daunting when working individually, particularly for our smaller schools that may be limited in the resources they can commit to large scale improvements,” said CICV President Robert Lambeth, who serves as principal investigator for the program.
The three-year program will help the colleges navigate the complex legal, regulatory, and technical challenges associated with installing solar systems, leverage group purchasing power to achieve price reductions for hardware and installation services, and create a learning network accessible by other organizations considering solar power. Consulting services will be provided to CICV by Optony, Inc. (www.optony.com), a global consulting firm focused on solar energy.
“Renewable energy could be a way to lower our carbon footprint and our utility bills at the same time,” said Barry Schnoor, director of Shenandoah University’s physical plant. “Programs like this push the momentum in the right direction, eliminating or reducing at least some of the obstacles to solar energy.” Schnoor will serve as Shenandoah’s team leader for the project.
The ultimate goal is to create and implement a replicable plan for participating institutions to deploy solar electricity within five years. This project has the potential to substantially increase the total amount of solar power now produced within the Commonwealth of Virginia. Program objectives also aim to break down procedural, administrative, financial and legal barriers in the participating institutions’ localities to aid in the implementation of solar power in those communities. In order to do that, the group must clear two major hurdles.
“The program targets two critical areas that are challenges to each of us on our own,” said Eric Sheppard, Sc.D., dean of Engineering and Technology at Hampton University. “The pooling of resources to complete the preliminary technical and legal analyses required and – hopefully – the collective power to negotiate better prices for implementation are two major objectives of this project.”
Drawing on expertise from select faculty and staff at participating institutions, the project will eliminate duplication of effort and create a streamlined, replicable process for institutions to plan for, acquire and implement solar energy systems on their campuses. Students at participating institutions will contribute their time and effort to the program.
Once the framework is in place and institutions are ready to begin installing solar power, CICV will develop a request for proposals (RFP) so that companies may bid to install the solar energy equipment schools choose.
“That’s one of the biggest benefits of the project for the participating colleges,” said Jenny Bousquet, director of Grant Support & Foundation Relations at Shenandoah University. “That process alone for a school with no previous solar experience would be daunting and complex. The grant won’t fund the purchase of solar panels, but tiered cost reductions based on the purchase volume of the group will be made available to the participants. The idea is to build capacity within the participating schools so that what they implement in terms of solar energy is sustainable over time.”
A final part of the program is the development of a learning network that encourages and enables project replication, including a how-to guidebook and an online information hub accessible to interested parties within and outside Virginia throughout the project lifecycle and beyond.
Additional institutions involved in the collaborative initiative include Appalachian School of Law, Bridgewater College, Eastern Mennonite University, Emory & Henry College, Ferrum College, Hampton University, Hollins University, Lynchburg College, Mary Baldwin College, Marymount University, Randolph College, Roanoke College, Virginia Union University and Washington & Lee University.
About the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia:
The Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia (CICV) was founded in 1971 and currently operates as Virginia Private Colleges, a nonprofit, 501(c)(6) organization representing 29 accredited nonprofit independent colleges and universities in Virginia. The organization works collaboratively in the areas of public policy, cost containment and professional development as well as providing support to our member institutions and their students.