The Commonwealth of Virginia trails far behind its neighbors in the Mid-Atlantic in solar energy adoption. In 2013, there were only 6MW of installed solar across the entire state. Solar is a tough case in Virginia, where challenges posed by a lack of incentive structures and an inability to utilize third-party ownership models are compounded by the state’s voluntary renewable portfolio standard, below average electricity prices, and high installation costs.
The Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia (CICV) set out to expand solar in Virginia by working with 15 member colleges to develop and deploy 30MW of solar on campuses across the commonwealth. These schools collectively serve approximately 30,000 students, cover 3,500 acres and consume more than 125 million KWh annually of purchased energy generated predominantly from coal. Through this project, CICV developed collaborative and replicable multi-year Solar Master Plans and feasibility assessments for each campus. These plans determine specific opportunities for solar deployment and establish a joint solar procurement program, which leverages the collective purchasing power of the campuses to reduce costs by a minimum of 10% and result in the deployment of at least 30MW of solar PV within five years. CICV will also utilize the existing expertise of campus faculty and staff as another means to drive down the cost of solar deployment.
CICV, together with project partner Optony, developed solar feasibility reports for each participating college. The feasibility reports, which included site assessments, historical energy consumption, available incentives, interconnection points, and more, serve as key tools in each college’s internal decision-making process and are an integral part of the campus’ Solar Master Plan. Each Solar Master Plan also includes a Virginia solar market overview, a master facility list, a detailed deployment plan, procurement form documents, and internal stakeholder engagement strategies for building internal support.
CICV developed a collaborative and replicable approach that simplifies, expedites, and lowers the cost of the process of preparing for and purchasing solar PV installations by reducing soft costs and building scale. Utilizing the feasibility assessments and Solar Master Plan for each campus, CICV developed and released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for Solar Photovoltaic Projects on behalf of the 15 colleges and universities, the first RFP of its kind in Virginia. Campuses were split into bundles to reduce soft costs such as acquisition and administration. The participating colleges benefitted from the reduced transaction costs, minimized administrative burden, and decreased risk and complexity allowed by this collaborative model.
The process of successfully launching a collaborative RFP required three key roles:
A second round of RFPs will be released in 2017 to deploy solar on additional feasible sites owned by the participating colleges. CICV compiled lessons learned from their first collaborative procurement to guide future procurements. Ultimately, the project team will develop a collective procurement guidebook primed for replication.
The successful implementation of this multi-year collaborative solar deployment project depends not only on establishing an appropriate plan, but also on the increasing the knowledge and capacity of faculty and facility management staff at the participating colleges. CICV arranged professional development workshops for faculty and staff on solar markets, financing, and engagement practices. The project also worked to engage and educate students, with some colleges awarding credits to students involved in bringing the proposed projects to fruition. Workshops addressing solar energy and civic engagement for students are planned for fall 2017. The project team aims to create a learning network to highlight progress and share work products containing tools and resources for other campuses considering solar deployment.
The reach of this project extends beyond any one campus by helping to address the local solar market conditions, including permitting, zoning, interconnection, and financing. In the project’s final year, the project team will proactively engage a diverse group of stakeholders, including faculty and staff from participating colleges, local governments, state regulators, and electric utilities, and identify opportunities to advance solar readiness in local communities.