The Commonwealth of Virginia trails far behind its neighbors in the Mid-Atlantic in solar energy adoption. At the outset of this project, there were only 6 MW 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 30 MW 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 identify specific opportunities for solar deployment and establish a joint solar procurement program, which leverages the collective purchasing power of the campuses to reduce costs associated with going out to bid for solar. The plans show that CICV has the potential to deploy 30 MW of solar PV within five years. CICV also utilized the existing expertise of campus faculty and staff as another means to drive down the cost of solar deployment.
This sample plan is a template other colleges and universities can utilize in their planning process for assessing solar potential and a collaborative procurement approach.
CICV developed a collaborative and replicable approach that simplifies, expedites, and lowers the cost of preparing for and purchasing solar PV installations by reducing soft costs and building scale. Utilizing the feasibility assessments and solar master plans for each campus, CICV developed and released a request for proposals (RFP) for solar PV 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:
This memo highlights lessons learned from our first round of procurement and includes advice for team structure, design of the RFP documents, and how to properly evaluate the responses.
This learning module guides students in analyzing the potential impact of utility regulatory filings on solar PV systems.
In 2016, CICV and their consultant evaluated bids and selected the winning solar project developer. Individual campuses were then free to enter into contracts with the solar project developer based on the terms in the winning bid, but were not obligated to do so. Four colleges moved forward to sign power purchase agreement (PPA) contracts with Tesla to install a total of 1.9 MW, with Tesla owning the renewable energy credits for the first three years before they are turned over to the colleges.
Deploying solar in a nascent market is not without its own set of challenges. Lynchburg College is facing utility challenges related to PPAs and utility ownership of generation, stalling the proposed 1.3 MW installation across four separate facilities. Solar at Randolph Macon College stalled with the vendor due to new building construction and siting. Despite the challenges, Virginia Union University and Washington and Lee University will start construction in summer 2018, and CICV is looking to continue engaging member colleges in solar procurement.
An assessment of a collaborative procurement approach to understand cost savings involved and lessons learned.
The process of getting four signed contracts helped elucidate key lessons for future group procurements:
CICV worked to make solar a reality on campus by leveraging group purchasing power to secure a tiered price reduction for solar installations at participating colleges, engaging students, and reducing costs by utilizing the expertise of campus faculty and staff. The model developed by CICV allows for some economies of scale in procuring solar power. It offers its member colleges access to shared expertise in the form of the CICV project manager and the technical consultant. By issuing an RFP for more than 30 MW of solar, CICV was able to attract more bids at lower prices than each campus would likely have attracted with individual RFPs for much smaller projects (e.g., less than 1 MW on several of the smallest campuses) and drew bids from reputable national companies that had not previously entered the nascent Virginia solar market.
Throughout the project, representatives from other colleges and higher education consortia contacted CICV to learn more about their model of collaborative procurement. There is a great deal of interest in adopting solar PV among smaller institutions, and they are hungry for tools and expertise to assess their capacity for solar PV, and then to procure it. The replicable templates and approaches developed in this project can satisfy some of that need, cutting down the time and effort necessary to draft the documents from scratch and offering guidance for groups interested in pursuing a collaborative procurement approach. CICV is pursuing funding to continue building colleges’ capacity to procure solar energy in Virginia, while engaging students, policy makers, and other stakeholders in solar energy education.