Largest East Coast PV Project Is a Win-Win for Recipients and Providers

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Three Washington D.C. institutions announce that a North Carolina solar project is under development to supply them with 52 MW of power. The project provides economic savings to the institutions while also generating income for the landowners.

 

The George Washington University (GW), American University (AU), and the George Washington University Hospital (GWUH) announced Tuesday that they will create a renewable energy project that brings solar power from North Carolina to the D.C. institutions. The projects demonstrate that large organizations in an urban setting can meet energy needs while significantly reducing their carbon footprints by directly tapping offsite solar energy. This is accomplished by moving the solar power generated at the panel sites in North Carolina through a North Carolina electrical grid into the D.C. regional grid.

The 52 MW Capital Partners Solar Project is supplied by Duke Energy Renewables. It is the largest non-utility PV power purchase agreement in the United States in total contracted megawatt hours and the largest PV project east of the Mississippi River.

“Thanks to this innovative partnership, the George Washington University will now derive more than half of all its electricity from solar energy,” said GW President Steven Knapp. “This will greatly accelerate our progress toward the carbon neutrality target we had earlier set for 2025.” While other universities such as Cornell also use solar to provide power to their campus, this installation is unique in both its scale and the fact it is located offsite.

The project, orchestrated by CustomerFirst Renewables (CFR), will help GW, AU, and GWUH meet their climate action plan commitments without incurring additional costs. The partners will break ground on the first site this summer, and panels will begin to deliver electricity by the end of the year.

When fully operational at the end of 2015, Capital Partners Solar Project will generate 123 million kWh of electricity per year, drawn from 243,000 solar panels at three sites. That translates to eliminating roughly 60,000 metric tons of CO2 annually.

Under the agreement, GW will receive roughly 86.6 million kWh, AU will receive 30 million kWh, and GWUH will receive approximately 6.3 million kWh annually. The power will provide more than half of GW’s and AU’s electricity needs and more than a third of GWUH’s need.

The project also has economic benefits, both for the partners and North Carolina communities. Jon Crouse, trustee for one of the parcels of land in phase one of the project, said, “The opportunities the project presents—hundreds of construction jobs, the sale of materials and consumables and an increase in the tax base—are huge for our county. For the landowners and farmers, it enables us to diversify from a fully agricultural portfolio, build economic sustainability and become part of a larger effort to be good stewards of the environment.” He will have panels on 25% of his acreage, while 75% of the land remains dedicated to agriculture. This is just another example of how solar for agribusiness has caught on in recent years, given that it makes economic sense to put solar on their land.

For the partners, the 20-year agreement will provide fixed pricing for the solar energy at a lower total price than current power solutions. This will lead to greater economic savings in the long term, as traditional power prices are anticipated to increase at a higher rate over the same period.

This latest commitment is another step toward carbon neutrality for both universities, continuing the pledge the institutions made with D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray in 2012 to make D.C. the greenest college town in America.

It’s not all sunshine for North Carolina though. Duke Energy, the parent company of Duke Energy Renewables, is actually inhibiting solar power in North Carolina. The utility is attempting to reduce payments to customers who sell back their excess solar power. Duke Energy also has a monopoly on the market in North Carolina. This project would not have been possible with North Carolina universities, because they need to buy from Duke Energy.