The Collegiate School is the first K-12 school in the Richmond, VA area to install solar panels through a power purchase agreement with no upfront capital cost.
In November 2017, the Collegiate School, an independent college prep school in Richmond, made a big leap on its journey to become more environmentally sustainable.
At that time, the school signed a Power Purchase Agreement with Secure Futures, becoming the first K-12 school in the Richmond area to plan solar energy on site through a PPA, a relatively new financing system in Virginia.
Once summer break began this year, Secure Futures began installing four separate solar arrays on campus. And right now we’re putting the finishing touches on those arrays.
Collegiate is already an eco-leader among schools in Richmond. By installing solar through a PPA, Collegiate has become a clean energy pioneer too, helping blaze a path for other schools in the Richmond area and beyond, whether public or private, to meet their goals in going green.
A Breakthrough in Solar for Schools
In the past, it was difficult for schools like Collegiate to afford solar panels.
Whether they are private schools operated as non-profit organizations or public schools run by local governments, most K-12 schools don’t pay income taxes. Generally, being exempt from taxes helps schools’ bottom line. But when it comes to going solar, there’s a downside.
Not having to pay income taxes means that schools can’t benefit from the main financial incentive to purchase solar panels around the United States and inside Virginia, the 30% federal tax credit on solar energy equipment.
This meant that if a non-profit school bought its own solar panels, the school had to effectively pay much more for those panels than would homeowners or businesses who could take part of the panel cost off their taxes.
High upfront cost for solar panels has been the biggest barrier to schools going solar in the past. But fortunately, today, things are different in the world of solar power in Virginia. Going solar for schools has become much more affordable than it was just a few years back.
Not only are solar panels cheaper than they used to be, but financing is better. Especially for tax-exempt schools like Collegiate, the advent of power purchase agreements over the last few years has made all the difference.
Through the PPA with Secure Futures, Collegiate will receive clean energy from solar panels on campus at no capital expense. Using its own solar power to replace some of the electricity purchased from its local utility, the school will see energy savings on their electric bill for the next 35 years or more.
Collegiate’s 90 kilowatt rooftop solar system is being installed atop four different buildings on two different campuses:
The Sharp Academic Commons will hold 17.5 kW (Mooreland Campus)
Centennial Hall has 8.4 kW (Mooreland Campus)
Robins Saunders Center has 45.2 kW (Robins Campus)
The Robins maintenance building holds 18.9 kW (Robins Campus)
Our drone footage shows off the installation process as we’ve worked hard to get the arrays in place before students would return to campus in September.
Collegiate’s Leadership in Sustainability
Collegiate has become a trend-setter for school solar in the Richmond area. Now, Collegiate will join the ranks of schools in other parts of Virginia that have already used PPAs to go solar on campus, including public schools in Albemarle County and the City of Lexington.
Collegiate wanted to go solar for two main reasons: to save money on energy and to meet their goals for environmental sustainability.
When it comes go going green, the school follows the Four Guiding Principles of the Center for Ecoliteracy’s “Smart by Nature” framework, which provides a structure for how educators can teach environmental sustainability:
Nature is our teacher; Sustainability is a community practice; The real world is the optimal learning environment; Sustainable living is rooted in a deep knowledge of place.
Installing on-site solar is a tangible sign that Collegiate is living up to and even exceeding its sustainability commitments. Solar arrays right on campus will bring sustainable principles into students’ learning environment – literally right above their heads.
Secure Futures encourages this on-site, hands-on learning. To help integrate the school’s new solar energy system into classroom lessons, Secure Futures will sponsor a workshop on campus led by the National Energy Education Development project (NEED). The workshop will provide teachers with curriculum materials to educate students about renewable energy.
When students and teachers return to classes at Collegiate in a few weeks, we hope that sight of new solar panels on campus will be a pleasant surprise. And in the coming years, we are confident that the whole school community will benefit from the environmental and educational opportunities that their solar panels offer.
— Nicole Duimstra, Secure Futures Solar