Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg has been generating solar electricity on the roof of the school’s Hartzler Library for eight years. That makes it one of the oldest significant solar energy systems still operating in the state of Virginia.
At the time of installation in 2010, EMU’s solar project set a few records within the Old Dominion, including:
- The first solar project larger than 100 kilowatts in Virginia, as well as the largest commercial-scale solar project in the state at the time.
- The first privately financed commercial-scale solar project in Virginia, which paved the way for future sites to sign 20-year Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs). Since then, this type of financing has revolutionized the solar industry in the state, helping make commercial-scale solar projects widely affordable.
EMU was a pioneer in solar in 2010, and an example of how net metering could offer benefit to its community by providing affordable power to the grid to help keep everybody’s rates down.
And through its high profile in Harrisonburg, EMU’s example encouraged homeowners and small businesses around the city to go solar too. It worked. Largely because of EMU’s leadership for the last eight years, Harrisonburg may have more rooftop solar power installed per person than any city in Virginia.
What It Takes to Be A Solar Pioneer
To put EMU’s leadership on solar power in context, you need to understand just how much things have changed in Virginia, and nationwide, in the eight years since EMU put up its solar array.
Just check out a few facts:
- Back in 2010, America got less than one-tenth of one percent (0.1%) of its electric power from solar energy. By the end of 2017, solar had jumped to nearly 2% of America’s electricity.
- Across the whole United States in 2010, the total amount of solar capacity installed nationwide was only 878 megawatts. It took about 50 years to get that much solar. Compare that to the 2,500 megawatts installed across the country in just the first three months of 2018.
Colleges and universities are not always known as early adopters of new technology. But back in 2010, EMU took the leap into solar when much larger schools were still waiting to see how it would work out.
What motivated EMU to try something new?
Tapping Into a Core Value with Solar
The Mennonite community, which EMU was founded to serve, has always put a special emphasis on social responsibility and the environment.
Starting decades earlier, EMU had been “encouraging sustainable living long before ‘green’ became trendy,” according to the school’s sustainability web page. “It’s always part of our understanding of our call to live gently with God’s creation.”
This focus on creation care helped EMU make the decision to go solar on campus when investing in renewables in Virginia was still considered unproven, at least financially.
Eight years later, it’s clear that EMU’s bet on solar paid off, with thousands of dollars in savings on electric power along with numerous educational benefits.
Teachers have integrated the school’s on-site solar system into their classroom lessons. And students have adopted the solar panels, even making their own video co-starring the solar panels and the school’s mascot.
In 2017, a group of students began a project to increase EMU’s solar capacity. After gathering interest, the Student Solar Panel Project (SSPP) was born. The campaign proved a success and, as a result, a 41-kilowatt solar array will be installed on a dorm-turned-academic space. The newest installation is predicted to produce 56,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, increasing EMU’s solar generating capacity by 40%.
Secure Futures new drone footage shows off EMU’s existing solar array eight years later. In the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, video of Virginia’s first university-led solar installation overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains. The imagery gives us a reminder that “going green” saves not only money but also helps preserve the beautiful, natural scenery around us.
To find more upcoming drone videos of solar, subscribe to Secure Futures’ youtube channel. While you’re there, check out some of our other videos.