Highlights

  • Reduced operating costs and demonstrated the economic and environmental benefits of solar deployment through the installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) on private colleges in Virginia.
  • Developed a collaborative and replicable approach to procuring solar for 15 partnering colleges.
  • Sought to deploy at least 30 MW of solar energy within five years, offsetting about 25% of the electricity consumed on participating campuses and more than doubling the current installed solar capacity for the entire Commonwealth of Virginia.
  • Advanced solar readiness in adjacent communities by conducting community-level solar policy and program benchmarking and reducing the soft costs associated with solar deployment.

Background

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.

Creating a Masterplan for Each Campus

Tool:
Solar Master Plan Sample Solar Master Plan Sample
Author:  Optony, CICV

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, together with project partner Optony, developed solar feasibility reports for each participating college. The feasibility reports, which include site assessments, historical energy consumption, available incentives, and interconnection points, served as key tools in each college’s internal decision-making process and form an integral part of each 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.

Group Purchasing Power

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:

  1. Convener (CICV): Brought potential partners together and issued the RFP on behalf of the participants
  2. Participant (colleges): Played a support role in the data gathering and vendor selection processes
  3. Technical advisor (Optony): Developed the procurement strategy and documented and ensured due diligence in the proposal evaluation

Resources

Report:
Lessons Learned from CICV’s First Collaborative Procur... Lessons Learned from CICV’s First Collaborative Procurement
Author:  CICV

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.

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Webinar:
CICV Collaborative Procurement ... CICV Collaborative Procurement RFP
Author:  ISC

This webinar discusses CICV’s collaborative procurement RFP process, lessons learned, and next steps.

Student and Faculty Engagement

Case study:
CICV Learning Module- Analyzing Utility Regulatory Filings CICV Learning Module- Analyzing Utility Regulatory Filings
Author:  CICV

This learning module guides students in analyzing the potential impact of utility regulatory filings on solar PV systems.

The successful implementation of this multi-year collaborative solar deployment project depended not only on establishing an appropriate plan, but also on 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 were held in 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Results and Lessons Learned

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.

Presentation:
CICV Solar Group Purchasing: Results and Lessons Learned CICV Solar Group Purchasing: Results and Lessons Learned
Author:  NREL

An assessment of a collaborative procurement approach to understand cost savings involved and lessons learned.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory completed an assessment of the CICV collaborative procurement approach to understand the cost savings involved. The assessment found that the collaborative’s procurement soft costs were lower than the average across the country, and that for the colleges that pursued projects, individual soft costs were likely lower than if they had pursued procurement individually. To quantify their PPA cost savings in the future, colleges pursuing a group procurement approach should request that RFP bidders include pricing both for individual projects at a college as well as the bundled group purchase. Additionally, confirming go-no-go decisions for participating colleges, perhaps through a non-binding memorandum of understanding, can help ensure commitment throughout the procurement process and lead to the execution of contracts.

The process of getting four signed contracts helped elucidate key lessons for future group procurements:

  • There is strength in numbers—combining the purchasing power of several smaller organizations is a powerful tool for attracting proposals from solar companies.
  • Having a convener that is well known among the potential partners in a group—and that has a track record of fostering collaboration—can be key to encouraging participation in the project.
  • Clearly articulating the scope of the project and outlining expectations for participants are vital to the success of the project.
  • While PPAs are attractive to many institutions that lack the capital to build and own their solar PV facilities, the model remains underutilized in Virginia, and there is still room for education about the benefits of PPAs.
  • The tools and approaches used in this project provide a useful roadmap for other collaborative groups developing and implementing future group solar purchase projects.

Key Takeaways and Next Steps

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.