A renewable energy project will bring solar power from North Carolina to three Washington D.C. institutions, showing large organizations in an urban setting can meet energy needs while significantly reducing their carbon footprints by directly tapping offsite solar energy.
The project, named Capital Partners Solar Project and supplied by Duke Energy Renewables, comprises 52 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaic (PV) power, which is the equivalent of the electricity used in 8,200 homes every year. It is the largest non-utility solar PV power purchase agreement in the United States in total contracted megawatt hours and the largest PV project east of the Mississippi River.
George Washington University (GW), American University (AU) and the George Washington University Hospital (GWUH) are the three organizations taking part in the project.
“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.”
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 kilowatt hours (kWh) of emissions-free electricity per year, drawn from 243,000 solar panels at three sites. That translates to eliminating roughly 60,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year or taking 12,500 cars off the road.
“American University is firmly on its way to achieving carbon neutrality by 2020,” said AU President Neil Kerwin. “We are home to the largest combined solar array in the District, are resolved to growing green power through our purchase of renewable energy certificates and are now a partner to the largest non-utility solar energy purchase in the United States.”
Under the agreement and once the project is complete, 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 solar power will fuel more than half of GW’s and AU’s electricity needs and more than a third of GWUH’s need.
Solar power generated at the panel sites in North Carolina will move through a North Carolina electrical grid into the D.C. regional grid, increasing the amount of solar energy in the region.
“Great organizations define the future. We have a responsibility outside our four walls to the world beyond,” said Barry Wolfman, chief executive and managing director of GWUH. “Joining this partnership to embrace alternative power reflects our daily work as health advocates—caring, healing, teaching and birthing new generations. Our work and this project pave the way for a brighter future in the nation’s capital and the world as a whole. It’s simply the right thing to do, and we are proud to be a part of it.”
The project also has economic benefits, for the partners and North Carolina communities.
“We believe our support of solar energy is creating excitement about making investments in our community,” said Jon Crouse, trustee for one of the parcels of land in phase one of the project. “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 percent of his acreage, while 75 percent of the land remains dedicated to agriculture.
For the partners, the 20-year agreement will provide fixed pricing for the solar energy at a lower total price than current power solutions and should yield greater economic savings for the partners as traditional power prices should increase at a higher rate over the same period.