Highlights

  • Reduced operating costs and demonstrated the economic and environmental benefits of solar deployment through the installation of solar PV on private colleges in Virginia.
  • Developed a collaborative and replicable approach to procuring solar for 15 partnering colleges.
  • Set out 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 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 associated with going out to bid for solar and result in the deployment of at least 30 MW 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.

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 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.

Group Purchasing Power

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 benefited 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 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.

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.

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 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 late 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.

Spurring Solar Market Development in Surrounding Communities

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.