13,000 solar panels installed across 10 Richmond public schools

Published: Nov. 1, 2019 at 9:24 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - In October, crews from Commonwealth Power put the finishing touches on a solar farm located on the roof of Martin Luther King Middle School in Richmond. This is just one of 10 schools across the city that are benefiting from a grant from the RVA Solar Fund through the Community Foundation for Greater Richmond.

The grant allowed Richmond Public Schools to partner with Commonwealth Power and Secure Futures to install 13,000 panels across the schools over the summer.

The nine other schools that benefited from the grant are Huguenot High School, Lucile Brown Middle School, and seven elementary schools including Blackwell, Broad Rock, Oak Grove, G.H. Reid, J.B. Fisher, Miles Jones and Linwood Holton.

The schools were chosen based on the condition of the buildings and which schools would operate most efficiently with solar panels.

“The simple point is that solar’s time has come, it’s now the cheapest form of energy,” said Andrew Grigsby with Secure Futures.

“Now that the system is operational, we just sit back and create energy,” said Commonwealth Power President, Chris Paige. “These schools have power plants on their roofs now.”

It’s a multi-million dollar effort that didn’t cost RPS a dime thanks to what’s called a Power Purchase agreement, which allows Secure Futures to own and operate the panels and then sell that power to the school system. Through this business agreement, RPS is only responsible for the electric bills.

“Basically, a year ago, this building had one electric bill from Dominion Power and going forward they will have two bills that will add up to less than they were paying previously,” said Grigsby. “They pay no money upfront and we are able to finance the project through that ongoing revenue stream.”

Grigsby says the solar panels that have been installed on the roofs of these school buildings can each generate about 385 watts of electricity when exposed to full sunlight perfectly hitting the panels, which is the equivalent of six 60-watt light bulbs. The amount of energy the panels generate can fluctuate depending on weather conditions.

The school system is projected to save $2 million in energy costs over the next 20 years, which breaks down to about $100,000 a year.

But saving money while going green isn’t the only benefit RPS hopes to reap from this project. These solar panels can also be used as teaching tools in the classroom.

“We have access to all of the data that the panels are producing so teachers if they want, they can download that data into spreadsheets or whatever format they want,” said sustainability coordinator Wendy Fewster.

Fewster says that the different applications of solar can be applied to standards of learning for math and sciences courses across all grade levels.

“It has various applications and that crosses all grade levels whether you are in elementary school all the way up through high school," said Fewster.

“Everybody wins, the environment wins, the children win, the school system wins,” said Grigsby.

The solar panels are projected to work for about 30 to 35 years.

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