News & Reports

Virginia Private Colleges and U.S. Department of Energy Enter Into Cooperative Agreement to Pave the Way for Solar Energy

The Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia (CICV) has been awarded more than $807,000 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative to help 15 of their members, all private nonprofit colleges in Virginia, develop comprehensive plans for implementing solar power on their campuses. 

The three-year program will help the colleges navigate the complex legal, regulatory, and technical challenges associated with installing solar systems, leverage group purchasing power to achieve price reductions for hardware and installation services, and create a learning network accessible by other organizations considering solar power. Consulting services will be provided to CICV by Optony, Inc., a global consulting firm focused on solar energy. 

The 15 colleges involved in the collaborative initiative are Appalachian School of Law, Bridgewater College, Eastern Mennonite University, Emory & Henry College, Ferrum College, Hampton University, Hollins University, Lynchburg College, Mary Baldwin College, Marymount University, Randolph College, Roanoke College, Shenandoah University, Virginia Union University and Washington & Lee University.

“CICV member colleges are interested in sustainability and reducing their carbon footprints,” said CICV President Robert Lambeth, who serves as principal investigator for the program. “Our recent success with a collaboration that now provides five of our colleges with electricity generated from landfill gas provided the impetus for expanding our efforts to solar power.

“The SunShot Initiative presents an opportunity to work as a team to effectively make progress in an area that is challenging when working individually, particularly for our smaller schools that may be limited in the resources they can commit to installing solar.” 

The funding is a landmark achievement for CICV, as it is the first time the organization has sought federal funds to further its mission of collaboration among its members.

“SunShot is CICV's first attempt at securing federal money to help our members meet their sustainability goals,” said Director of Business Operations Anita Girelli. “We have had success with so many collaborative projects; it seemed natural to continue those efforts in an area that is of such importance to our members, their communities, and the environment.”

The ultimate goal is to create and implement a replicable plan for participating institutions to deploy solar electricity within five years. This project has the potential to substantially increase the total amount of solar power now produced within the Commonwealth of Virginia. Program objectives also aim to break down procedural, administrative, financial and legal barriers in the participating institutions’ localities to aid in the implementation of solar power in those communities. In order to do that, the group must clear two major hurdles.

“The program targets two critical areas that are challenges to each of us on our own,” said Eric Sheppard, Sc.D., dean of Engineering and Technology at Hampton University. “The pooling of resources to complete the preliminary technical and legal analyses required and – hopefully – the collective power to negotiate better prices for implementation are two major objectives of this project.”

Drawing on expertise from select faculty and staff at participating institutions, the project will eliminate duplication of effort and create a streamlined, replicable process for institutions to plan for, acquire and implement solar energy systems on their campuses. Students at participating institutions will contribute their time and effort to the program.

“Involving students in the process from start to finish will provide educational opportunities and exposure to innovative and current topics – knowledge we hope will inspire them to continue sustainability efforts long after their college years,” said Girelli.

Once the framework is in place and institutions are ready to begin installing solar power, CICV will develop a request for proposals (RFP) so that companies may bid to install the solar energy equipment schools choose.

“That’s one of the biggest benefits of the project for the participating colleges,” said Jenny Bousquet, director of Grant Support & Foundation Relations at Shenandoah University. “That process alone for a school with no previous solar experience would be daunting and complex. The grant won’t fund the purchase of solar panels, but tiered cost reductions based on the purchase volume of the group will be made available to the participants. The idea is to build capacity within the participating schools so that what they implement in terms of solar energy is sustainable over time.”

A final part of the program is the development of a learning network that encourages and enables project replication, including a how-to guidebook and an online information hub accessible to interested parties within and outside Virginia throughout the project life cycle and beyond.

“While solar energy is not their primary mission, our member colleges are proud to be good stewards of the earth and positive role models for their students and communities,” said Lambeth. “Many are signatories to the Presidents’ Climate Commitment and are committed to becoming climate neutral. Solar energy is one way to make progress toward those goals.”

About the SunShot Initiative:
The U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national effort that aggressively drives innovation to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources before the end of the decade. Through SunShot, the Energy Department supports efforts by private companies, universities, and national laboratories to drive down the cost of solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour.

Which schools would you like to hear from?
Appalachian College of Pharmacy
Appalachian School of Law
Averett University
Bluefield College
Bridgewater College
Eastern Mennonite University
Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine
Emory & Henry College
Ferrum College
George Washington University - VA
Hampden-Sydney College
Hampton University
Hollins University
Liberty University
Mary Baldwin University
Marymount University
Randolph College
Randolph-Macon College
Roanoke College
Shenandoah University
Southern Virginia University
Sweet Briar College
University of Lynchburg
University of Richmond
Via College of Osteopathic Medicine - VA
Virginia Union University
Virginia Wesleyan University
Washington and Lee University
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