County awards solar contracts; 12 Richmond Highway area schools on list

Four panels on the roof of the building
Solar panes on the roof of Discovery Elementary School in Arlington. (Arlington County Public Schools image)

Fairfax County has awarded three contracts for the first phase of its effort to install solar arrays on government-owned buildings across the county.

The county said in a press release Tuesday that the solar initiative could yield more than $60 million in energy savings. Currently 113 facilities — including 87 school buildings — are on the county list to get solar photovoltaic arrays during the first phase of the project.

“It’s the largest solar power purchase agreement initiative by a local municipality in Virginia to date,” Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay said in a statement Friday. “I couldn’t be more proud of the County for being a leader in solar and combating the effects of climate change.”

More than a dozen public buildings in the Richmond Highway area, including two high schools, are among the facilities slated to get panels. They include:

  • Gum Springs Community Center
  • John Marshall Library
  • Belle View Elementary School
  • Bucknell Elementary School
  • Cameron Elementary School
  • Clermont Elementary School
  • Edison High School
  • Hayfield Secondary School
  • Hybla Valley Elementary School
  • Mount Eagle Elementary School
  • Sandburg Middle School
  • Stratford Landing Elementary School
  • Whitman Middle School
  • Woodlawn Elementary School

Mount Vernon District school board representative Karen Corbett Sanders, current school board chair, said the solar project will build on a 14.5 percent reduction of energy use across the school district since 2014.

“The notification of the award is another successful point in our journey to move FCPS toward increased adoption of renewable energy sources,” Corbett Sanders said in an FCPS release. “Our move toward solar reinforces the School Board’s commitment to our environmental stewardship responsibilities.”

The contracts were awarded to three solar power purchase agreement (PPA) service providers. According to the EPA, PPA agreements allow a third-party contractor to own, operate and maintain the system, while the customer — in this case Fairfax County, FCPS, the Fairfax County Park Authority and the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority — purchases electricity from the provider during the contract period.

“This financial arrangement allows the host customer to receive stable and often low-cost electricity, while the solar services provider or another party acquires valuable financial benefits, such as tax credits and income generated from the sale of electricity,” according to the EPA website.

The county did not announce the value of the contracts, but said the energy rates will be fixed for the term of the contracts. In a Dec. 6 letter announcing the contracts, County Executive Bryan Hill said that Sigora Solar, in partnership with Standard Solar, is the primary awardee for the roof-mounted solar arrays.

“Sigora/Standard will provide electricity at a rate of $0.069 per kilowatt hour (kWh) delivered, which is approximately $0.02 less than the current average rate per kWh paid to Dominion Energy,” Hill said. “Sigora/Standard’s rate is fixed for a 25-year term with no escalation factor.”

BrightSuite, a subsidiary of Dominion Energy, will partner with Sun Tribe Solar on another contract while Ipsun Solar and SunLight General Capital will partner on the third contract. BrightSuite will handle the canopy/carport-mounted solar installations, Hill’s letter said.

“This partnership will provide electricity at a fixed rate of $0.110 per kWh delivered for a 30-year term,” Hill said.

In addition to the estimated savings, the county touted the environmental benefits of making the move to solar.

“In terms of greenhouse gas reductions, the contracts have the potential to avoid the emission of more than 1.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, or an amount comparable to the emissions of 260,155 passenger vehicles over the course of one year,” the county’s press release said.

The number of schools in Virginia using solar energy has grown from 29 to 86 since 2017, according to Solar Power World magazine. PPAs have financed 90 percent of those installs, according to the magazine.